Lifesaving cancer drugs held up by the system 71



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Australians with melanoma, our most deadly cancer, have reason to celebrate today with the inclusion of a revolutionary new drug under the PBS. The treatment, which previously cost $150,000 per year will now be available for $37.70 per prescription and just $6.10 for concession card holders.

Professor Grant McArthur from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre says Keytruda is a revolutionary treatment.

“Keytruda is the most remarkable drug I’ve dealt with in my career,” he told reporters.

However, the manufacturers of the drug have hit out at Australia’s policy on new medications, saying old systems are blocking people from life-saving medical advances.

Ken Frazier, global chief executive of Merck, the company that developed Keytruda, told The Australian Financial Review, “If you look at a basket of drugs available in Australia – composed of drugs that are off-patent and drugs that are new, innovative drugs – I think you would find compared with the US, Australia vastly overpays for older commodity drugs. That creates a budgetary squeeze when it comes to new drugs [such as] Keytruda.”

Keytruda and similar immunotherapy drugs being used to trigger the immune system to fight cancer. They are being described as the most important medical discovery since penicillin.

Mr Frazier said the Australian government was paying too much for older drugs, which made it difficult to introduce new medicines such as this new melanoma drug.

He also pointed out that, according to an OECD report, Australia ranked 18 out of 20 developed countries for access to new medicines.

Keytruda will be available on the PBS from September 1 and only for melanoma patients, although it has been used elsewhere to treat lung cancer.

Federal health minister Sussan Ley says the government, which is investing $57 million to subsidise Keytruda, will likely increase funding in the coming years given Australia’s high cancer rates.

AFR research found four out of five people rated healthcare as the most important issue for voters, but only 2 per cent could describe the federal government’s performance in this area as “very good”.

Former Melbourne lord mayor Ron Walker, who accessed the drug from the United States under a test scheme, said the treatment saved his life.

“I was a walking person that was going to die, and with this drug I came back to life again within a year, so it’s [had] an amazing effect on me and it’s having the same effect on others,” he told the ABC.

“It’s an amazing drug, it’s a huge step forward and I think that most countries around the world would be applauding what the Australian Government’s done for patients.

Tell us, do you think the government should spend more time and money improving access to medicines, including cutting-edge cancer treatments? DO you have a story to share about affordability of medicines? 

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  1. I think this statistic is bad for all of us.. Australia ranked 18 out of 20 developed countries for access to new medicines. Why do we deserve old drugs? Australian lives are of value

    5 REPLY
    • Because the government needs the money for more important things. Like politicans cigars and lunches and overseas trips and living away from home in your own home allowance.

    • Watched Charlie Pickering the other night and he had a bit on about some Aboriginal funding being withdrawn.
      He said the amount that was being paid for the service was less than the amount that was spent to buy new indoor plants for Parliament House. But Abbott in his wisdom decided that plants were more important than people.

  2. Why were life saving drugs held up in the first place ? Is the system slow or have too many bottle necks while patients suffer .

    1 REPLY
    • We have conservative politicians who keep subsidising irrelevant drugs, thus leaving very tight monetary constraints on the latest Immune System drugs which are not chemotherapy. They work by cutting off the blood supply to a tumour, slowing its progress and it’s ability to spread the cancer through the body. As the article said these new drugs are equivalent to the life saving discovery of Penicillin.

  3. Seems it’s not about healing, mostly about money. Otherwise there would be NO hold-ups.

  4. When those in charge measure everything by its cost then the end result is ‘nothing gets done’. They know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Remember if any politician making these decisions were to get cancer, they would be off to get the best treatment in a nano second !

    2 REPLY
    • That is pretty much a ridiculous statement! Being a politician would not have any bearing to the outcome. FDA approval has nothing to do with a politician having cancer. It is more to do with the drug company, once approval has been made, and they are satisfied that the drug is safe! Why make a drug that will save many lives, especially young ones at that, and then charge a price out of the range of most of the population? Holding us and the Government to ransom! As some one said rightfully, it is all about money! For the drug company!

    • See again Molly you rise to your own assumptions and never clear think! I intimated that they would be ‘off to get the best treatment ‘ I did not say to access drugs not available here! The article clearly states that Govt policy is holding up the availability of drugs such as Keytruda! Read the article again or at least once!! How many have died since Keytruda became available more than a year ago, while we continue to subsidise useless drugs. You think politicians don’t control drug availability, then just ask Abbott how long he kept RU486 out of the country, it was 7yrs! And then he blamed women for having convenient abortions. You need to catch up in your research .

  5. No

    1 REPLY
    • I really sincerely hope you ladies or any family members who said no to investment and access to new drugs for cancer treatment are never diagnosed with cancer. Because it’s no fun to watch your child or family member suffer and die from cancer because the drugs are so unaffordable to the general public. Hopefully you are all millionaires and can afford the best of treatment. The ugliest thing that I have ever seen is a human being without compassion.

  6. Shame on our Government for not doing more to save lives, the release of life saving drugs should be made available as soon as they have been made available to the public, there have been many people who have lost their lives to soon that could have been saved.

    3 REPLY
    • Perhaps one needs to ask the drug companies about that? Why make a drug available to save a life? But only make it available for the rich?

    • Molly to my knowledge it has something to do with cost to patten it, which determents the cost.

    • Trish, this drug does not save your life. It helps to prolong your life but I have been told a stage 4 melanoma sufferer at this present time will never be cured.

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