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Newly approved drug targets advanced breast cancer

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC)

News Release, Auckland 25 February 2008

For Immediate Release

Newly approved drug targets advanced breast cancer

The US Food and Drug Administration today approved the targeted therapy Avastin for use in advanced breast cancer. A clinical trial showed Avastin, when used in tandem with taxane chemotherapy, slowed the spread of advanced breast cancer by an additional 5.5 months.

Avastin was already approved for use in colorectal and lung cancers and works by cutting off the blood supply to cancer tumours.

Spokesperson for the Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC) Libby Burgess said, "Avastin is a new, targeted therapy that works in a different way to other chemotherapy drugs currently available. Its novel approach inhibits the development of blood supply to the cancer.

"Avastin is a promising new medicine in our arsenal of cancer fighting agents."

Ms Burgess added it is unlikely that Avastin will be funded in New Zealand for women with advanced breast cancer any time soon.

"New Zealand's spending on pharmaceuticals lags far behind that of other countries. We spend only around 6% of our health budget on pharmaceuticals compared to 12% in Australia and an OECD average of 14%. Unless the government turns this around, new targeted medicines such as Avastin will remain out of reach for New Zealanders.

"The government published a new Medicines Strategy last year. It states that New Zealanders should feel secure that the health and disability support system protects them from substantial financial costs due to ill health.

"The Strategy aims to provide us with access to the medicines we need, regardless of our individual ability to pay, and within the government funding provided.

"This is a step in the right direction, but must be backed up by government action to substantially increase funding for medicines."

"New Zealand is the only country in the world with a capped pharmaceuticals budget," said Ms Burgess. "Public and political awareness of this issue is growing, due in part to our country's failure to fund the full 52 week course of Herceptin and the plight of those women who have been forced to fund-raise for more Herceptin treatments than the 9 weeks PHARMAC is offering. New Zealanders deserve access to medicines that will provide us with better health and survival, whatever disease we are faced with."


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