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PHARMAC to fund more cancer medicines and faster assessment

5 December 2019

Thousands of New Zealanders with lymphoma, breast, ovarian and blood cancers will have more treatment options available to them in the New Year.

PHARMAC has confirmed that two new medicines – olaparib for ovarian cancer and fulvestrant for breast cancer – have been approved for funding.

“This means five new cancer medicines have been funded in the last six months,” says Sarah Fitt, PHARMAC’s Chief Executive.

Rituximab and bortezomib, which are already funded, have also been approved for widened access following successful commercial proposals from new suppliers. This means more patients will be able to use these medicines and for longer.

Rituximab is currently funded for a range of cancer, blood and autoimmune conditions. Bortezomib is funded for the treatment of several types of blood cancer.

“We know people want funded access to effective cancer medicines as quickly as possible. Not only are we funding more cancer medicines, we are also speeding up our assessment process for new cancer medicines,” explains Sarah.

From 1 January 2020, PHARMAC will assess funding applications for new cancer medicines at the same time that Medsafe is undertaking its regulatory assessment. The change could shorten the overall time for PHARMAC to assess a new cancer medicine for funding by 12-15 months. This initiative was part of the Ministry of Health’s Cancer Action Plan announced in September this year.

Between 1 July and 31 October 2019, PHARMAC has approved the funding of 7 new medicines and widened access for 20 medicines. Nearly 34,000 people are expected to use these medicines in the first year.

More details on the medicines being funded:

• Olaparib (Lynparza) will be funded from 1 February 2020. It will be supplied by AstraZeneca Pty Ltd. It will be funded specifically for people with BRCA-mutated relapsed ovarian cancer subject to certain clinical criteria being met. We estimate that 30-40 people a year will benefit from this new medicine.

• Fulvestrant (Faslodex) will be available as soon as practicable following Medsafe approval. It will be supplied by AstraZeneca Pty Ltd. It will be funded specifically for use as a second line and beyond treatment for locally advanced or metastatic oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer. We estimate that up to 1,750 people in the first year, and up to 630 people per year in subsequent years, will benefit from this new medicine.

• Rituximab (Riximyo) will have widened access from 1 March 2020. This new brand of rituximab will be supplied by Novartis. Access will be widened for multiple new uses including maintenance treatment for CD20+ low grade or follicular B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, graft versus host disease, antisynthetase syndrome with lung disease, some severe neurological conditions and amending existing criteria for transplant indications to allow use for any organ. We expect around 145 people a year will benefit from this decision.

• Bortezomib will have widened access from 1 March 2020. The new brand of bortezomib will be supplied by Dr Reddy’s. Bortezomib is specifically used for the treatment of multiple myeloma and AL amyloidosis, which are types of blood cancer. We expect around 120 people a year will benefit from this decision.

Cancer medicines already funded this financial year are alectinib for ALK positive advanced non-small cell lung cancer, trastuzumab emtansine for HER-2 positive metastatic breast cancer and venetoclax for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.


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