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Pharmac Removes Cap On Multiple Sclerosis Drug

Health Minister Annette King has welcomed Pharmac’s decision to remove the funding cap on beta interferon, allowing more New Zealanders with multiple sclerosis access to the treatment.

The decision will initially see a further 50 patients given subsidised beta interferon, with the prospect of more following if they meet the criteria for accessing the drug.

Beta interferon is currently subsidised for 180 patients under a funding cap, with further patients meeting the entry criteria put on a waiting list. The funding cap has now been removed and fully subsidised beta interferon made available without delay to all patients who meet the entry criteria published in the Pharmaceutical Schedule.

Ms King said multiple sclerosis was a terrible disease, for which there was no cure and only limited treatment options. “Beta interferon has been shown to provide benefits to some MS patients so it is pleasing that Pharmac is able to make this change and offer the drug to more patients.”

Pharmac chief executive Wayne McNee the decision followed a recommendation from the expert committee that was set up to consider the subsidised access to the beta interferon waiting list. All patients who meet the entry criteria will now have immediate subsidised access to beta interferon.

Multiple sclerosis patients are given access to subsidised beta interferon according to a set of entry and exit criteria developed by expert neurologists.

“Beta interferon is a costly drug and one that continues to be the subject of international scrutiny, so we have to ensure that it is targeted at people who will benefit from it,” he said.

Mr McNee said that when a specialist committee such as MSTAC (Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Advisory Committee) made a recommendation, it did so considering only clinical issues for the condition it was looking at. Wider health sector issues were then considered by Pharmac before any recommendation could be implemented.

The removal of the cap for beta interferon has been made possible through savings in other areas of the pharmaceutical budget. The change is expected to cost up to an additional $3 million a year.


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