‘It’s given me hope’

Life-chang­ing can­cer drug deal

The New Zealand Herald - - Front Page - Boris Jan­cic pol­i­tics

Wiki Mul­hol­land has watched friends die around her since her ter­mi­nal breast can­cer di­ag­no­sis 18 months ago. The mother-of-three of­ten won­dered if she’d sur­vive long enough to see pub­lic fund­ing for drugs that could ex­tend life for her and thou­sands of other Kiwi women.

To­day, Gov­ern­ment drug-buy­ing agency Phar­mac will an­nounce it has struck a pro­vi­sional deal to cover the cost of Ibrance, a pricey but po­ten­tially life-pro­long­ing treat­ment Mul­hol­land and other women bat­tling breast can­cer have cam­paigned for.

It means at least 2000 women could begin re­ceiv­ing the drug by as early as April.

“There have been times where it re­ally felt like it was never go­ing to hap­pen,” she said. “It’s life-chang­ing, it’s just given me so much hope.”

Phar­mac will now run one fi­nal con­sul­ta­tion on the pro­posal un­til the end of the month.

If all goes to plan the drug could be in pa­tients’ hands from April 1. It’ll cover first- and sec­ond-line treat­ments, mak­ing New Zealand one of the first coun­tries in the world to do so once the drug is avail­able.

About 2000 Ki­wis are ex­pected to be el­i­gi­ble for Ibrance — the brand name for pal­bo­ci­clib — and then up to 950 oth­ers each year.

With a non-sub­sidised price of $66,000 a year for breast-can­cer suf­fer­ers, many women have had to fundraise or bor­row from fam­ily mem­bers in a bid to pro­long their lives.

Breast Can­cer Foun­da­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive Evan­gelia Hen­der­son said the deal was won­der­ful news for pa­tients who had been cam­paign­ing for the drug.

“We're ec­static. Ibrance, or one of its equiv­a­lents, has been funded in coun­tries like the UK and Aus­tralia for some time. These drugs are now con­sid­ered the stan­dard of care for ad­vanced breast can­cer around the world, so it's been very painful for pa­tients to have New Zealand lag­ging be­hind.”

It is not known how much Phar­mac will pay for the drug un­der the pro­posed deal. Phar­mac does not dis­close how much it pays for drugs. But drug com­pany Pfizer says it will now pro­vide the drug free to qual­i­fy­ing breast-can­cer pa­tients un­til the sub­sidy comes into force in April. The Phar­mac news comes at the end of a long pub­lic cam­paign by Mul­hol­land and other sur­vivors. They’ve marched on Par­lia­ment, gath­ered a 34,000-sig­na­ture pe­ti­tion, faced politi­cians and told their sto­ries over and over in hopes that Phar­mac would take up the drug — which has been pub­licly funded in Aus­tralia since last year — and oth­ers like it. Mul­hol­land was among a group of women who told con­fronting per­sonal sto­ries to a par­lia­men­tary se­lect com­mit­tee. Although she’s proud to have made a dif­fer­ence for women, she said it shouldn’t have been so hard. “It was gut-wrench­ing to put it on the ta­ble and share with other peo­ple your fear about dy­ing and leav­ing be­hind your fam­ily. It’s quite in­cred­i­ble to think you have to live in a coun­try where you have to do that.”

Mother of two Krys­tal Hekau was among those who marched to the Bee­hive but never lived to see the fruits of their labours.

She died in May, aged 36. Her hus­band, Ofa, is filled with pride. “Know­ing my wife was be­hind that push, it’s heart­en­ing to know it’s fi­nally avail­able to the pub­lic.”

Hekau was a mem­ber of na­tion­wide can­cer sup­port group Sweet Louise, whose ranks have swelled to more than 700 since the pe­ti­tion was de­liv­ered to Par­lia­ment in 2018.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Philippa Reed said 205 of the group’s mem­bers died last year and 15 in the past month alone.

“This is re­ally go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence. There are so many women who will need this and it’s a fan­tas­tic step,” Reed said.

“But it’s a shame it’s taken so long.” Reed and Mul­hol­land want to see Phar­mac’s bud­get dou­bled.

Phar­mac, which makes its de­ci­sions in­de­pen­dently of politi­cians, said in Septem­ber that it was mulling over Ibrance and tak­ing of­fers from other sup­pli­ers. Soon af­ter the Gov­ern­ment gave the agency an

ex­tra $60 mil­lion over two years.

Phar­mac chief ex­ec­u­tive Sarah Fitt told the Her­ald the agency had spent the time since find­ing po­ten­tial com­peti­tor treat­ments to be able to lever­age a bet­ter deal. “We have to be ab­so­lutely sure that the next $100m we spend, we’re spend­ing it on the right medicine. I know that’s no con­so­la­tion to pa­tients and their fam­i­lies, be­cause they want it now.”

Fitt said con­sul­ta­tion should be straight­for­ward, but no fi­nal de­ci­sion had been made and the agency needed to make sure the fi­nal el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria was right. Pfizer Aus­tralia and New Zealand man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Melissa McGre­gor said more than 600 Kiwi women were di­ag­nosed with ad­vanced breast can­cer ev­ery year. “Ac­cess to tar­geted treat­ments like Ibrance, which en­able New Zealand pa­tients to live well and for longer with­out their dis­ease pro­gress­ing, is cru­cial for peo­ple with ad­vanced can­cer.”

Na­tional Party politi­cians have ar­gued NZ was the vic­tim of “global post­code pric­ing”, with man­u­fac­turer Pfizer re­port­edly charg­ing $2000 a month for the drug in Malaysia.

Fitt said the agency was con­fi­dent it had se­cured a good deal. Phar­mac’s 2019 bud­get was just over $1 bil­lion.

Photo / Mark Mitchell

Wiki Mul­hol­land says it shouldn’t have been so hard to make a change.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.