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More Patients To Get Beta-Interferon

Health Minister Annette King said today about 50 more patients than initially expected are likely to be eligible for the multiple sclerosis drug beta-interferon.

Mrs King announced on December 26 the Government was fulfilling an election pledge to fund the expensive drug (which costs about $20,000 per patient), and said then that Pharmac expected about 130 patients to meet eligibility criteria developed in consultation with New Zealand neurologists.

"But Pharmac has now formally approved funding to cover 180 patients expected to meet the criteria. Both brands of beta-interferon on the market, Avonex and Betaferon, will be fully subsidised."

Mrs King said much hard work had been done since December. "It is absolutely vital to get the process right from the start, and I am pleased with Pharmac's commitment to making sure it is thorough and fair. I'm also pleased to announce patients will not have to pay the co-payment prescription fee."

Pharmac had established an independent committee of neurologists, the MS Treatment Assessment Committee, which had begun using the criteria developed last year to determine which patients were eligible, she said.

"The previous Government refused to listen to compelling evidence to fund this treatment. We were one of only two countries in the world not doing so."

Pharmac General Manager Wayne McNee said today that funding was on track for June. “Although it is too early to know exactly how many people will be eligible, Pharmac has now completed successful negotiations with the suppliers, and we expect the budget to be sufficient.”

Pharmac was also organising distribution arrangements to make it easier for patients to obtain the drug, as some patients lived in rural areas and had disabilities, he said. "It is proposed that initially the drugs will be dispatched by the patient’s appointed clinician (a GP or a specialist), but once the patient is confident with the treatment, the drug can be sent directly to the patient."

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