Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Drug treatment for melanoma in New Zealand

The treatment of melanoma in New Zealand - along with Australia the melanoma capital of the world - is a disgrace.

There has been discussion about the government Pharmac funding a drug that has been proven successful but unavailable in this country unless you are rich enough to be able to und your own treatment.

A petition is being delivered to parliament today.

I have discussed my (and my partner Pam's) experience HERE.

Here is an email I received on this.

In New Zealand one person dies every day from advanced melanoma

Dear Robin,

I’m 45 years old and I have Stage IV Advanced Melanoma. This means the melanoma has spread to other parts of my body including my organs. It is very aggressive and chemotherapy and radiotherapy will not cure my cancer.

The public health systems in places like Australia, the UK, and Canada, fund new cutting-edge, life-saving treatment for advanced melanoma.

But here in New Zealand, Pharmac has said it cannot fund such drugs. They simply don’t have enough money to fund new, breakthrough drugs, because they haven’t seen a real increase in funding in the last three years.

In New Zealand, one person dies every day from advanced melanoma. Yet the Government does not offer any significant treatment for those with the diseчase.

Tomorrow, I’ll be joining other advanced melanoma patients and their families to deliver our huge petition to Parliament, demanding the government fund a new drug - Keytruda - which is showing the best results ever seen in treating advanced melanoma.

Annette King, Labour’s Health Spokesperson, has agreed to meet us to hear our stories. But so far, the National Health Minister, Jonathan Coleman, has declined to meet us.

But we still continue to hope he will change his mind.

If you’re in Wellington tomorrow lunchtime, please come and join us to deliver our petition. Please show support for those of us campaigning on this issue. We’re meeting in front of the Seddon statue in front of Parliament at 12.15pm. It would be great if you could be there.

Thanks for your support so far – it means the world to us.

Yours sincerely,

Kathryn Williams
Patient with Advanced Melanoma

PS. The more people who sign the petition, the stronger our message to Jonathan Coleman will be. If you haven’t signed the petition yet, click here to add your name before we deliver it to Parliament tomorrow.

Here is some coverage from Radio New Zealand and John Campbell (on Checkpoint)

Melanoma survivor calls for Pharmac to fund Keytruda

1 March, 2016

A terminally ill cancer patient who paid for her own melanoma treatment and survived is taking a petition to Parliament calling for drug Keytruda to be funded.
Australia, Canada and Britain subsidise pembrolizumab, known as Keytruda, which can stall and shrink tumours in some patients.

However, in New Zealand, Pharmac has given it a low priority, saying they are waiting for the results of further studies of the drug's effectiveness.

Cancer survivor Leisa Renwick on Checkpoint with John Campbell, discussing Pharmac's decision to give a low priority to melanoma drug Keytruda. Leisa Renwick will take a petition to Parliament today.   Photo: RNZ / Checkpoint

Cancer survivor Leisa Renwick will present the petition to Parliament today calling for Keytruda to be made available to all New Zealanders who need it.

Ms Renwick had been told by doctors she would live for only a few weeks but, after paying for her own treatment, which could cost over $10,000 a month, she has survived.

She had wanted to meet Health Minister Jonathan Coleman but said he had refused, saying he was too busy.

The petition was a last-ditch effort and people would die if they couldn't get the drug, she said.

"There is no other treatment. There is nothing else. By standing back like Pontius Pilate, and washing his hands of the affair, he's condemning people to die and to die fast. If he doesn't do something, the people who are coming to see him in Wellington will die."

Dr Coleman told Morning Report that Pharmac made its funding decisions independent of government - and this would have been a difficult decision to make.

"It's really difficult. The issue is, there's $800 million in the Pharmac budget and Pharmac has to make decisions on the drugs that will benefit the greatest number of New Zealanders, so it's making priorities. There's other drugs, it's trade-offs within that budget.

"But what I can say is we're having obviously the government's budget on May 28th and that budget always gets more money for health, and I will be making the case to increase Pharmac's budget."

He would be at Parliament to receive Ms Renwick's petition, he said.

"Originally and usually, these things are presented to the local MP but I'm going to go down there and see them."

Labour leader Andrew Little said the government should override Pharmac's decision and make Keytruda available to all New Zealanders, as there were no alternatives to it and melanoma was a common cancer in New Zealand.

no captionHealth Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman has responded to criticism of Pharmac's decision to give Keytruda a low priority.   Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Pharmac underspent its budget by $30m last year and money should be put up to fund the drug now, he said.

"Let's have a fund that can take new drugs, like this, newly available, funded for a period of say two years so that we can continue to get the clinical data and the field data, but knowing that because other countries are using it that it is effective."

Listen to Mr Little on Morning Report ( 4 min 8 sec )

Mr Little agreed Pharmac was an independent body but said the government should sometimes step in.

Dr Coleman said, with hindsight, that was the wrong decision.
"As the PM has said and I have said, look, actually, on reflection that was not the right thing to do ... We've got to let Pharmac make these decisions without political interference and we wouldn't be doing that again in the way we did with Herceptin."

PM: 'Not going to rule it out'

Prime Minister John Key said, at the moment, the decision on whether to fund Keytruda was in Pharmac's hands.

There had always been debate over what the drug buying agency should spend its money on, he said.

"We're also going through the budget process now as you'd expect and so there's obviously a high expectation that there'll be more money for health and potentially therefore more money for Pharma.

"So I'm not going to rule out that it gets funded in the future [but] at the moment, that's in the hands of Pharma."

Mr Key said the pharmaceutical industry created new drugs all the time, and not all of them were successful.


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