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Cancer sufferers demand answers from PHARMAC

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC)

News Release, Auckland 10 February 2008

Embargoed until 12:01am 11 February 2008

Cancer sufferers demand answers from PHARMAC

Eight cancer survivors are back in the High Court today to continue their case against drug funding agency PHARMAC. The women are challenging PHARMAC’s decision not to fund 12 months of Herceptin treatment for NZ women with HER2 positive breast cancer.

Herceptin Heroines spokesperson, Chris Walsh, said, “The lives of thousands of New Zealanders depend on the decisions PHARMAC makes. We’re becoming increasingly concerned about the processes PHARMAC follows and the lack of clarity and transparency around its decision making.

“We have undertaken a Judicial Review because we are concerned about how PHARMAC managed the advice it received about Herceptin, the evidence it reviewed, and how its actions stacked up against its obligations as a crown entity.

“Internationally PHARMAC is out on a limb, on its own with this one. 24 other OECD countries now fund the proven and recommended Herceptin treatment regime of 12 months. We think it’s time PHARMAC was asked to explain why it won’t give us the same.

“The odd thing is, PHARMAC is so uncomfortable about the decision, that it has taken the unusual step of funding a clinical trial to prove it was right. Our argument is that New Zealanders should be receiving 52 weeks treatment until 9 weeks is shown to be an effective alternative.

“There are a large number of new, targeted therapies on the horizon and it is our belief that the issues, delays and inconsistencies seen with Herceptin simply can’t be allowed to happen again with a different treatment, or another group of patients.”

Walsh said oncologists know the 12 month regime provides the best chance for women to beat this type of cancer. Sadly, they can only offer 9 weeks and advise women to take 12 months if they can afford it.

Ms Walsh said many women are taking the 9 weeks offered and then fundraising to pay for as many extra treatments as they can. Others do not have resources to fundraise.

“Unfortunately, taking a government agency to court isn’t cheap and we’re constantly trying to find funds to continue fighting on behalf of women with breast cancer, as well as New Zealanders who could find themselves in a similar position in the future.”

To help raise funds for their court battle, the Herceptin Heroines are holding a special fundraising dinner in Auckland on February 23. Celebrity and breast cancer survivor Jools Topp will be the MC.

More information on the Herceptin Heroines, the Judicial Review and the gala dinner can be found online at

About the Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition

The Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC) is an Incorporated Society with charitable status, presenting a unified voice to call for change, improvement and innovation on behalf of all New Zealand women experiencing breast cancer.

BCAC was formed in November, 2004 when twelve New Zealand breast cancer organisations came together at a forum to create one group. BCAC now has twenty-three member organisations and is currently working on five major initiatives:

1. to ensure consistent, high quality detection and treatment of breast cancer throughout New Zealand by promoting the development and implementation of evidence-based best practice guidelines;

2. to support the prompt and effective implementation of the extended age breast-screening programme (45 to 69);

3. to inform and advocate for improved access to breast cancer treatment drugs;

4. to research and promote the provision of professional psychosocial services for breast cancer patients and their whanau, family, friends and supporters;

5. to identify and promote breast cancer issues for Māori and Pacific Island women


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