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PHARMAC shuts door on 400 New Zealand women

PHARMAC shuts door on 400 New Zealand women

Monday, 16 October 2006

The government’s drug funding agency PHARMAC has confirmed it will not be funding Herceptin® (trastuzumab) for women with HER2 positive early breast cancer, making New Zealand the first country in the developed world to say ‘no’ to funding the drug.

Svend Petersen, managing director of Roche Products (New Zealand) Limited, says PHARMAC has effectively shut the door on the 400 New Zealand women that currently have HER2 positive early breast cancer.

“PHARMAC’s decision flies in the face of international opinion and international best practice for the treatment of HER2 positive early breast cancer”, Mr Petersen says.

Mr Petersen says PHARMAC’s claims of “uncertainty” over the strength of data supporting Herceptin simply do not add up, given that 22 other OECD countries have already approved funding based on exactly the same data.

“The decision to fund Herceptin for 52 weeks across the majority of the OECD member nations was based on the same data provided to PHARMAC. This data came from four major international clinical trials, including the HERA trial, one of the largest breast cancer studies ever conducted.”

“This was also the same data that led to positive funding decisions in both the United Kingdom and Australia, both announced in the last two months.

“Out of 30 members of the OECD, only New Zealand has declined funding for Herceptin. South Korea, Turkey, the Slovak Republic, Poland and the Czech Republic are still considering their position on funding Herceptin for the treatment of early breast cancer”, Mr Petersen says.

The HERA trial, studied the effects of Herceptin treatment in a group of more than 5,000 women. The trial found that Herceptin reduced the number of deaths by almost 34 per cent, and the chance of the cancer recurring by almost 36 per cent when given for 52 weeks.

31 New Zealand women with HER2 positive early breast cancer took part in the HERA trial.

Mr Petersen says PHARMAC’s proposal to consider the clinical evidence for providing Herceptin for anything but the internationally accepted 52 week treatment period appears to contradict its own funding evaluation process.

“On the one hand PHARMAC says the data from four large international clinical trials are insufficient to justify funding Herceptin for 52 weeks, but, in the same breath, it says it is prepared to investigate funding for a shorter period based on significantly less clinical evidence.

“Not only does that contradict international opinion regarding the best length of treatment, it also appears to contradict PHARMAC’s own requirement to have robust clinical evidence before considering funding new medicines.

“Roche continues to assert that the current body of evidence supports 52 weeks of Herceptin as the optimal treatment duration in early HER2 positive breast cancer.”

Mr Petersen says it is a cruel irony that PHARMAC has chosen to make the announcement in the middle of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the same month in which Australia began funding Herceptin for women with HER2 positive early breast cancer.

“Roche has made every effort to secure funding, to ensure New Zealand women had access to a treatment that is considered standard across the rest of the developed world.”


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