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Pharmac Funds New Treatment Option for Leukaemia


AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) New Zealand welcomes PHARMAC’s announcement that patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) whose cancer has relapsed within 36 months of previous treatment will now have funded access to VENCLEXTA® (venetoclax) in combination with rituximab, from 1 December 2019.[2]

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) is a type of cancer affecting white blood cells called B-cells, and may also involve the lymph nodes. In CLL, the B-cells multiply too quickly and live too long, so that there are too many of them in the blood.[3]

Many people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia have no early symptoms. Those who do develop signs and symptoms may experience enlarged lymph nodes, fatigue, fever, night sweats, weight loss and frequent infections.[4]

Each year in New Zealand around 120 people are diagnosed with CLL, making it the most common type of leukaemia diagnosed in New Zealand.1 Although diagnosed on occasion in adults aged 35-55 years, CLL usually affects people over 60 years of age, and is diagnosed more often in men than women.[5] CLL usually develops and progresses slowly over many months or years.1

VENCLEXTA® (venetoclax) is an oral targeted treatment that works by blocking a protein in the body ("BCL-2") that helps CLL cancer cells survive. Blocking this protein helps to kill and reduce the number of cancer cells, and may slow the spread of CLL.3

Each year in New Zealand around 120 people are diagnosed with CLL, making it the most common type of leukaemia diagnosed in New Zealand.1

Leading haematologist Dr Robert Weinkove says today’s announcement is a major step forward for New Zealanders who are living with CLL. “Many people with early-stage CLL can be safely monitored by their GP, but most eventually need treatment. It’s vital that we improve access to new targeted cancer medications so we can help New Zealanders with CLL.”

VENCLEXTA was developed as part of a research collaboration between AbbVie, Genentech, a member of the Roche Group of Companies, and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

AbbVie New Zealand’s General Manager, Andrew Tompkin, commended PHARMAC for recognising the unmet need of CLL patients in our community. “At AbbVie our goal is to provide medicines that make a transformational improvement in cancer treatment and outcomes for patients. Today’s news that the funding of VENCLEXTA means that patients whose CLL has returned have another option where previously their treatment choices were limited.”


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