Why Aussies are missing out on cancer drugs

 

Exclusive: Cancer patients in Australia are missing out on lifesaving new medicines available overseas because it takes four times longer for them to be subsidised here.

An extra 800 cancer patients a year could be treated with breakthrough immunotherapies if the subsidy process was sped up, new research shows.

Australia ranks 17th out of 20 OECD countries for access to new medicines.

Only half of the new medicines registered for use here between 2012 and 2017 gained a subsidy.

And we have some of the longest timelines for a medicine to gain a subsidy in the world, separate research by pharmaceutical company MSD Australia found.

 

 

It takes on average four times longer for new medicines to achieve reimbursement in Australia (426 days) when compared to world leaders Japan (89 days), Germany (117 days) and the United Kingdom (128 days).

Drugs for cancer are currently the slowest to be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

It took an average of 610 days for cancer medicines registered for use between 2012 and 2017 to get a subsidy, in one case the wait was over 1800 days or five years.

Cancer groups and pharmaceutical companies are calling on the government to set a new goal to subsidise all medicines within three months of them being registered as safe to use by our medicines watchdog the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

 

Research will today be presented to the 2020 Annual Scientific Meeting of the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia showing how these delays are affecting patients.

If the subsidy process was fast-tracked and medicines were approved within nine months patients who could benefit would live 19 per cent longer, the MSD funded study calculated.

And the increase in their progression-free survival (where their cancer does not progress) would improve by 22 per cent.

The agency in the UK which approves medicines for subsidy meets 44 times a year, in Australia our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBAC) meets just three times a year.

The UK also has a Cancer Drugs Fund which provides two year conditional market access to breakthrough cancer medicines while further evidence of their effectiveness is being collected.

Over 41,000 UK cancer patients have benefited from this fund in 2016, the MSD submission to the federal parliament noted.

Australia has trialled ways of speeding up access to medicines with six going through a Priority Review Pathway, where they were processed six months faster but none of them have yet been subsidised, the MSD submission said.

 

Cancer groups and pharmaceutical companies want subsidies approved within three months. Picture supplied.
Cancer groups and pharmaceutical companies want subsidies approved within three months. Picture supplied.

 

In August last year the PBAC had a special meeting to consider subsidies for breakthrough immunotherapy treatments for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and a subsidy for three types of cancer was achieved much sooner than if they had gone through the normal process.

Mr Michael Azrak, Managing Director of MSD Australia and New Zealand, said that the special PBAC lung cancer meeting held in August 2019 was an example of pragmatic and flexible decision making that enabled accelerated access for patients.

"This forward-thinking process led to early access to immuno-oncology medicines for Australian lung cancer patients, which, according to this modelling, contributed to an improvement in overall survival, progression-free survival and quality of life for these patients," he said.

A spokesman for the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt said the Government has a policy to list all medicines on the PBS that are recommended by the independent medical experts.

"Over $2.7 billion is invested in cancer medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme each year," he said.

"The Coalition Government has implemented significant reforms to the medicines and vaccines approval processes including priority reviews, provisional TGA approval, parallel TGA and PBAC assessment processes, and streamlined PBS listing pathways."

 

Originally published as Why Aussies are missing out on cancer drugs



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