Pharmac breast cancer drug restriction denies patients “another chance at more time”
Pharmac has missed a golden opportunity to allow more Kiwis access to a new breast cancer drug, a move that would have brought New Zealand into line with the rest of the world and removed a disparity that hits Māori and Pasifika hardest, says Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.
Today Pharmac has confirmed it will replace Herceptin (the brand name for the drug trastuzumab) with another company’s version called Herzuma, but will not widen the eligibility criteria for the treatment of advanced breast cancer.
Known as a biosimilar, Herzuma is equally as effective as Herceptin and costs much less. It is used to treat the HER2-positive sub-type of breast cancer, which is more aggressive and has poorer outcomes.
In June, Pharmac asked for feedback on the drug switch and at the time Breast Cancer Foundation NZ supported the introduction of a biosimilar. The charity also called for trastuzumab to be made available for retreatment, meaning women with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer could stay on this treatment even after their condition worsens.
Pharmac says it needs more clinical advice to make this decision, despite this practice being widely accepted internationally, as well as recommended in international and local treatment guidelines.
“New Zealanders with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer have been dying at a much quicker rate than women overseas and that’s largely due to fewer modern life-extending medicines,” says Adele Gautier, Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s research and strategic programmes manager.
“Our women only get one more shot at a funded anti-HER2 treatment when their first one stops working – this is grossly out of line with international practice where it’s common to have up to 10 treatments, including multiple courses of trastuzumab.
“This restriction also disproportionately affects Māori and Pasifika women, who are more likely to be diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer, yet are less likely to have privately funded drugs.
“Given Herzuma is a much cheaper alternative to Herceptin, it’s a real shame Pharmac hasn’t taken advantage of this cost saving to allow patients to retry trastuzumab after their cancer spreads or grows. Instead, Pharmac is denying women another chance at more time – which we know patients with incurable breast cancer are desperate to have,” Gautier adds.
Breast Cancer Foundation NZ is urging Pharmac to reconsider this at the earliest opportunity, using the latest evidence submitted by the Foundation and other patient groups. The charity also continues to call for the Government to increase Pharmac’s budget so that all New Zealanders with breast cancer can get the treatments they need.