Australian consumers spend $200m on cancer medicines

The National Oncology Alliance (NOA) is calling for the adoption of new processes that ensure the health system can keep up with rapid advances in science.

NOA is a collective of more than 100 members, including patients and carers, patient groups, clinicians and the pharmaceutical industry.

It was created to help ensure patients living with cancer have access to optimal care.

“Currently, the policies that facilitate access to treatment, support and care – particularly, how we reimburse medicines for cancer – have not adapted quickly enough,” it said in a statement.

NOA said it is calling for changes ahead of Friday’s meeting of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) at which it will consider a new submission process for PDL1 cancer immunotherapies.

The meeting was called earlier this year following a request from health minister Greg Hunt to chair Professor Andrew Wilson. Mr Hunt asked the committee to consider a new process to accelerate access to pan-tumour medicines.

In a letter to companies, Professor Wilson said the committee did not believe it was in a position to provide advice on the matter to health minister Greg Hunt, calling for submissions from companies and interested stakeholders.

According to NOA co-chair Richard Vines, “We will work with the PBAC, and all sides of politics, to ensure the reimbursement of medicines in this country adapts to allow subsidised access to exciting treatment options for patients, regardless of cancer type, as the days of a one size fits all approach are behind us.

“Cancer is a community-wide problem that demands collaboration for real progress to be made. By working together, we’re confident we can find a way to deliver equitable access to medicines, quickly.”

A new survey of Australian oncologists has found over 3,500 people are spending a combined $200 million every year, or around $60,000 each, to finance access to unsubsidised medicines.

It also found more than 6,000 Australians are unable to afford treatments recommended by their clinicians.

“They should not be missing out on innovative treatments because of the size of their bank balance,” said Mr Vines.

‘Whilst August 17 is a great start, and PD-1/PD-L1 medicines are the first cab off the rank for the PBAC to find new pathways for, there are many other innovative oncology medicines that have potential across multiple cancer types. This inquiry should be the beginning of a more flexible approach to reimbursement, ensuring patients don’t miss out,” he added.

NOA co-chair Professor John Zalcberg said: “Most Australians would be shocked to learn the extent to which Australian cancer patients were either funding their own treatment or left without what they need when they need it most.”

“As a clinician, the findings of this survey are confronting,” he said. “Clearly, the system can’t take it’s time to adapt because time is what most Australians living with cancer don’t have.

“Our health system must evolve to a point where it keeps up with advances in science and empowers clinicians to treat their patients with what they believe will help their patients beat cancer – not what our current system limits their access to,” added Professor Zalcberg.

In its submission to the meeting, NOA called for the creation of a follow-on subsidy pathway for additional indications for new cancer treatments and a pathway for faster access to new medicines for vulnerable Australians living with rare and less common cancers.

It has recommended the adoption of a provisional PBS listing through managed access to address uncertainty and a  molecular testing and classification framework that ensures the compatibility of PBAC/MSAC evaluation processes with biomarker-led therapies.

The original version of this article can be found here.


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