Pharmac to subsidise two cancer medications

AMANDA PARKINSON
Last updated 08:57 03/09/2014

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Pharmac will subsidise a $7000 cancer medication that could save hundreds of lives.

Doctors treating patients with specific types of leukaemia or myeldysplastic syndromes - debilitating types of blood conditions - will now be able to prescribe azacitidine or lenalidomide.

The country's Pharmaceutical Management Agency (Pharmac) will entirely subsidise the two medications. Azacitidne will be reduced from $605 per injection to free when administerd in hospital, while lenalidomide will fall under the co-payment scheme and be reduced from $7627 per packet of 25mg tablets to $5.

Currently few patients self-fund these treatments but Pharmac medical director Dr John Wyeth said the organisation expected up to 450 patients a year would benefit from the changes.

Pharmac director of operations Sarah Fitt said the addition of these to the pharmaceutical scheme would mean haematologists would have multiple ways to treat myeloma, leukaemia and MDS.

"Clinical trials of azacitidine showed it nearly doubled the survival rate of people with MDS, compared to conventional treatments."

She said traditional treatment options for patients with these conditions had been limited.

"In the case of lenalidomide, the aim of treatment is to delay disease progression and also to prolong life. The trials show that lenalidomide is effective in patients whose disease has progressed after receiving previous treatments," Fitt said.

A United States-led study in 2011 showed 72 per cent of high-risk patients responded to a combined chemotherapy treatment using these drugs within three months.

Fitt also said a benefit of lenalidomide was that it had less severe side-effects than other treatments.

"So, as well as being an effective treatment, lenalidomide is less likely to cause debilitating peripheral neuropathy than the currently available treatments, so it may be a better treatment option for some patients," Fitt said.

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of diseases which all affect the production of normal blood cells in the bone marrow.

amanda.parkinson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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