Te Pātaka Whaioranga – Pharmac has announced the funding of two new medicines - pembrolizumab (branded as Keytruda) and atezolizumab (branded as Tecentriq) for people with locally advanced and metastatic non-small cell lung cancer who meet certain eligibility criteria.
“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality in New Zealand, so we’re really pleased with the outcome of having two new treatment options available,” says Pharmac’s Operations Director Lisa Williams. “Through this funding process we have been able to secure pembrolizumab as first-line treatment and atezolizumab as second, or later line, treatment which will improve the quality of life significantly for people with advanced non-small cell lung cancer.”
“We are grateful for the feedback we received in response to the consultation, for both support of the proposal and on how to make sure we get the decision right for this population. As a result, we have made some changes to help ensure access for those who we expect will benefit from treatment and to facilitate access to funded treatment. A summary of the main themes raised in feedback are outlined in the notification.”
We know that this funding decision will have a substantial impact on those affected and their whānau so, where possible, we have sought to reduce barriers to access while minimising the impact on the health and disability system. We are working with health and disability sector partners and with consumer groups to support the equitable implementation of this decision.
Lucy Elwood from the Cancer Society says, “The Cancer Society is thrilled that these immunotherapy treatments will be funded from 1 April. This will lead to massive improvements in cancer outcomes for lung cancer patients. I am also really pleased to see that Pharmac is including more patient, NGO and sector voices into their processes.”
Merck Sharp & Dohme (New Zealand) Limited Director, Ms Vanessa Gascoigne, says, “We are delighted New Zealand patients with lung cancer and their whānau will soon have funded access to Keytruda. This is a major advance in the availability of cancer medicines within Aotearoa and is a step towards more equitable outcomes. Congratulations to Pharmac on prioritising this important disease area and to all those who have helped to raise awareness and address stigma around this disease.”
Roche Products (New Zealand) General Manager Alex Muelhaupt says some of the biggest benefits likely to arise from the treatment in New Zealand are improving outcomes for Māori and changing the social stigma of lung cancer.
“We hope better treatment will reduce the stigma associated with the disease, alleviating some of the less visible burden on patients. Roche is committed to making an impact for patients and improving inequities in health outcomes, and our approach is to work in partnership with all areas of the health sector to help make this happen.”
“The announcements we have made today for these two immune checkpoint inhibitors and also for Trikafta for those with cystic fibrosis, take us to 39 new funding decisions this financial year (since 1 July 2022), covering 18 new treatments and widened access to 21 others” says Ms Williams.
“We also recently notified a decision to widen access to the influenza vaccine, to reduce the impact of influenza on high-risk populations during the COVID-19 pandemic and to reduce the impact on the health sector that continues to be under pressure managing COVID-19 cases,” concludes Ms Williams.
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The Cancer Society of New Zealand is the country's leading organisation dedicated to reducing the incidence of cancer and ensuring the best cancer care for New Zealanders. We are committed to working with communities and decision makers by providing leadership and advocacy in cancer control, with core services in information and support, research and health promotion.