Whānau implores Pharmac to fund expensive cancer drug
A mother of three is facing the fight of her life.
Earlier this year, Wiki Mulholland found a lump on her left breast. She visited the doctors on May 1st and by May 4th she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It then quickly spread to her bones.
“By the time I had my surgery pre-appointment, unfortunately, it had already spread through my body. So it's moved from my breast to my spine. I have it in my sternum, in my rib cage, and also the base of my skull.”
She and her whānau are lobbying Pharmac to fund a drug that will prolong her life, but it costs more than $6,000 a month.
“As a family we've decided to go down the chemo track so it can buy me some time and give us that ability to raise some funds for the Palbociclib that I need. It's unfunded, so it's going to cost us $6,800 a month just so I can have more time with my family,” says Wiki.
The whānau has also set up a petition to Health Minister David Clark for the Government to help fund the drug, but the minister says it’s up to Pharmac.
“Pharmac makes the decision on which drugs are subsidised and it does that through an established process where it weighs up the costs and benefits of a variety of drugs.”
In a statement, Pharmac spokesperson Lisa Williams says the company has received a funding application for palbociclib as “initial endocrine therapy for patients with locally advanced" or "metastatic" breast cancer in February, and that a meeting will be held this month to discuss its merits.
“I just think it’s wrong that our government and the drug company Pharmac don't value us enough to think it's worthwhile having that as funded treatment,” says Wiki.
“At the moment it feels like it's about equity of access, so if you've got some money you can access the drug, if you can't - you're trying like crazy to find it.”
In the meantime, the whanau has set up a Givealittle page to help raise funds for her treatment.
Statement from PHARMAC:
PHARMAC works hard to find opportunities to make more medicines available to New Zealanders within our fixed budget, whether through funding new medicines or making the medicines we already fund available to more people.
Treatments develop quickly and PHARMAC is keen to access new treatments for patients who need them. PHARMAC’s role is to make sure that these new treatments are of a high quality for patients to use and live up to the claims being made by pharmaceutical companies.
To help us in our assessment of new treatments, we take advice from a committee of 11 expert cancer doctors, as well as from our main clinical advisory committee, PTAC. Their advice helps us to be sure we’re using New Zealand’s medicine budget for the right medicines.
While some medicines may be available in other countries, the health needs, and funding and reimbursement systems are often not comparable. New Zealand must make its own decisions, carefully assessing the available evidence and thinking about medicines use in the New Zealand health context.
PHARMAC received a funding application for palbociclib (brand name Ibrance) as initial endocrine therapy for patients with locally advanced or metastatic, HER2-negative, HR-positive breast cancer, from Pfizer in February 2018.