Breast cancer sufferers march on Parliament calling on Pharmac to fund two 'game-changer' drugs

Women with breast cancer and their supporters marched to Parliament today calling for Pharmac to fund two drugs for those in the advanced stages of the disease.

More than 29,000 signatures were delivered, calling on Health Minister David Parker and Pharmac to fund the Ibrance medicine, as well as more than 1500 signatures calling for funding of another drug called Kadcyla.

Petition organiser Terre Nicholson is reported as calling both drugs "game-changers" and said it can extend the lives of women with advanced breast cancer by two years.

"It’s literally a lifetime for us. We all have very important reasons to want extra time - time to spend with our family and other loved-ones…" she said in a post on the Breast Cancer Coalition Aotearoa website.

"With rapid advances in research, a cure or something close to it may only be a few years away.  We want to be alive to see it," she said.

Women taking Ibrance at the moment are paying more than $5500 a month for the drug, BCCA reported.

March organiser Wiki Mulholland said today’s march was a chance for women with advanced breast cancer and their whanau and friends to be heard.

"We want Pharmac to do better. We think whether you’re rich or poor, it shouldn’t matter, you should have access to the life-extending drugs that you need," she said.

Ms Mulholland said the number of signatures gathered was heartening.

"No one’s perfect so I’m hoping that from the message that we put out today that Pharmac are able to take a look at themselves, to be able to maybe put in a review and see is there a better way to do this - is there a way that all New Zealanders can access what they need instead of just the rich or some."

Labour MP Louisa Wall thanked those who delivered the petition on behalf of the health select committee.

"We will have to look at the system that currently is not providing what some people would say are the most effective medications for people who need access to those medications, it will mean that we will scrutinise Pharmac’s role and their ability to provide medications to all New Zealanders who need them," she said.

Health Minister David Clark said in a statement that it is not up to politicians to "second guess" the experts at Pharmac on which drugs are funded.

"This Government respects the independence and impartiality of Pharmac," he said.

Mr Clark said while the petition is "completely understandable," strong evidence is needed to support the case.

"When comparing New Zealand’s per capita spending on drugs with other countries, it’s worth bearing in mind the Pharmac model makes drugs more affordable to the taxpayer."

National MP Jo Hayes said she believes the funding process is outdated.

"If, as a politician, the last legacy that I leave in this House is help to drive through legislation to free up these drugs for our whanau and whanau whanui (extended family) then you know, I will have done something great in this House," she said. 

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt said the Government agency was unable to say if or when a funding decision would be made for Ibrance or Kadcyla.

"Ultimately, we want to continue making the best choices we can, expanding available treatments for all New Zealanders based on a robust, evidence-based approach," she said.

Ms Fitt said there’s a range of factors that affect how much of a priority funding a specific drug is, including health benefits, the amount of funding available, clinical trial results, supplier negotiations and other funding applications on the table.

A funding application was received for Kadcyla in August last year.

In February this year, a funding application was received for Ibrance.

Last year, the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee recommended funding Kadcyla was a low priority.

Pharmac asked the Cancer Treatments subcommittee for further advice on the drug, as well as advice on Ibrance, last month.

The advice from this is yet to be published on the agency’s website.

Ms Fitt said the funding systems between countries are often not comparable, in response to those petitioning that say New Zealand is lagging behind other OECD countries when it comes to funding some modern medicines.

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March organiser Wiki Mulholland says many stage four breast cancer patients turned out, while Labour's Louisa Wall says the funding system will be scrutinised. Source: 1 NEWS