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Better Access to Breast Cancer Treatment in NZ


Embargo - 9 June 2006


Better Access to Life-saving Breast Cancer Treatment in New Zealand

Novartis New Zealand Limited is making Femara® (letrozole) more affordable for women with the introduction of an Access Programme which will see eligible patients only pay the consumer prescription charge for their breast cancer medication. Femara was recently approved as initial therapy after surgery, for postmenopausal women with hormone receptor positive early breast cancer1, but for many patients is only partly subsidised through the Pharmaceutical Schedule2.

The introduction of the Femara Access Programme follows results of a major international study, involving New Zealand women, comparing Femara with the commonly used medicine tamoxifen, which showed that Femara reduced the risk of breast cancer recurring by an additional 19% beyond the benefit found with tamoxifen3.

Femara also reduced the risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body (distant metastases) by 27% more than tamoxifen3. The benefits were most marked in those women who had a higher risk of their cancer coming back, for example, if the cancer had already spread to their lymph nodes at the time of diagnosis and those who had undergone chemotherapy.

Novartis Oncology has decided to improve breast cancer patients’ access to Femara by removing the financial barrier of the part charge in partnership with selected pharmacies throughout New Zealand. Patients should consult with their breast cancer specialist to see if they are eligible to join the Femara Access Programme.

Novartis Oncology is working with PHARMAC to make Femara fully subsidised to all those New Zealand women who would benefit from it.

Dr Vernon Harvey, Associate Professor Oncology, Auckland Hospital explained: `We now have a medicine which further reduces the risk of the disease returning or spreading to other parts of the body. It has fewer recurrences than standard tamoxifen which is good news all round but especially for those women who are tamoxifen intolerant.’

Dr Chris Wynne, Oncologist, Christchurch Hospital added: `I’d like to thank all the breast cancer patients in Christchurch who took part in the study which led to these exciting results. This goes to show how important it is to keep New Zealand involved in this international research because the benefits, in this case of improved relapse-free survival rates, are tremendous.’

Libby Burgess, spokesperson for the Breast Cancer Advocacy Coalition said: `We are very pleased by this news. It broadens the choices for women in New Zealand and it broadens the choices that oncologists are able to make. Women with breast cancer are advised to talk to their doctor or specialist for further information.’

Femara is also available in New Zealand for post menopausal women with advanced breast cancer; for post menopausal women who have previously been treated with >4.5 - <6 years of tamoxifen after surgery for breast cancer; and for women with breast cancer with natural or artificially induced postmenopausal status who have been treated with antioestrogens1.

Femara is the only medicine in its class proven to be effective in women with hormone-related breast cancer as both initial treat-ment immediately after surgery or for use after they have completed >4.5 - <6 years of tamoxifen therapy (extended adjuvant setting)4. Femara is the first aromatase inhibitor to demonstrate greater benefit than the current standard treatments in both these settings, particularly in women at increased risk of breast cancer recurrence, where the disease has spread to their lymph nodes3,4.

The Femara Access Programme may be terminated or amended by Novartis at any time. However, it is Novartis’ present intention to run the Femara Access Programme for at least 12 months or until the successful conclusion of negotiations with PHARMAC to make Femara fully subsidised to all New Zealand women who would benefit from it, whichever first occurs.



1. Femara Data Sheet Novartis New Zealand Ltd
2. Pharmaceutical Schedule April 2006
3. Thürlimann B for the BIG 1-98 Collaborative Group. A comparison of Letrozole and Tamoxifen in Postmenopausal Women with Early Breast Cancer. N Engl J Med 2005;353(26):2747-57.
4. Goldhirsch A, Glick JH, Gelber RD, et al. Meeting highlights: International expert consensus on the primary therapy of early breast cancer 2005. Annals Oncol 2005; 16: 1669-1583

Further Information:
Additional information regarding Femara or Novartis Oncology can be found on the websites or

For consumer medicine information visit

Or contact Novartis Medical Information on: 0800 523 525 or email at

Femara® is a prescription medicine. Femara tablets contain 2.5mg of letrozole for the adjuvant treatment of postmenopausal women with hormone receptor positive early breast cancer, as well as the extended adjuvant treatment in women who have received between 4.5 and 6 years of treatment with tamoxifen. Treatment of advanced breast cancer in postmenopausal women either for first-line treatment or in women who have previously been treated with antioestrogens. Femara is fully subsidised (by Special Authority) or is partially funded - ask your doctor as you may have to pay for this medicine. A normal doctor’s visit fee applies. Caution is advised in patients with liver and kidney disease. Femara must not be used in premenopausal, pregnant or lactating women. Common side effects may include hot flushes, nausea, stomach upset, fatigue, vaginal dryness, headache, dizziness, joint, muscle or bone pain, hair loss, rash, weight gain, mood changes, osteoporosis and sweating. Rare side effects may include heart or vascular problems. Refer to consumer medicine information at the website for full details. Use strictly as directed. If symptoms continue or you need further information or you have side effects see your doctor. Femara is the registered trademark of Novartis AG. Novartis New Zealand, Auckland.


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