Pharmac delayed bargaining for a cheaper deal on Keytruda for too long - Cancer Society

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Drug-buying agency, Pharmac, is being slammed for a U-turn on funding melanoma drug Keytruda.

"We've watched people suffer and some people die while they've been waiting."
Source: 1 NEWS

The Cancer Society says too many people have died while Pharmac haggled the price down.

Real estate agent Anne Jeeves says she had to sacrifice shifting from Wellington to Orewa, a suburb north of Auckland, to get the expensive melanoma treatment. 

"I've had to leave my family and friends behind," she says.

"Our retirement fund is diminishing very quickly."

Her treatment is set to be funded by Pharmac; despite just a month ago the drug-buying agency said they weren't convinced Keytruda was effective.

Pharmac director of operations Sarah Fitt says there is no new clinical evidence at this stage, but they are continuing to watch progress.

"When we first started the conversation, price was obviously an issue, so we've been able to come to a more favourable commercial agreement," she says.

Labour health spokeswoman Annette King says it was always about the money.

"It wasn't about the efficacy of the drug, because it has now being said to be able to be used," she says. 

Under huge public pressure to fund Keytruda, the government gave more money for Pharmac to fund a similar drug called Opdivo instead. 

"I don't think the government wanted to look like it had capitulated to those that were protesting," Ms King says.

Cancer Society oncologist Dr Chris Jackson says Pharmac delayed bargaining for a cheaper deal for too long and didn't consult experts early enough. 

"We've watched people suffer and some people die while they've been waiting for this drug to become available, the cancer society thinks we should have had temporary funding of one of these two drugs," Dr Jackson says.

Prime Minister John key says the government has moved as quickly as they practically could.

"The good news is we've got there now," Mr Key says. 

The good news for melanoma sufferer Anna Jeeves and her husband is that they can now move back home to Wellington. 

"[It's] absolutely huge because it means you can live a normal life; you don't have to worry about watching the bank balances," Mrs Jeeves says.

Melanoma drugs Keytruda and Opdivo will be free from Friday. 

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