Pharmac an effective model but more funding would help

EDITORIAL

New Zealand’s drug funding agency Pharmac finds itself under real pressure in the debate over whether it should fund the melanoma treatment drug Keytruda, but what the debate shows most clearly is the need for independence and objectivity.

A petition signed by 11,000 was presented to Parliament by melanoma sufferer Leisa Renwick, who is paying for the drug herself.

Any reasonable person would feel sympathy for her and the others battling for their lives against this cruel form of cancer.

But there has to be some sympathy too for Pharmac, which is automatically cast as a villain in the eyes of many.

Pharmac chief executive Steffan Crausaz told TV3’s The Nation programme that the agency stands by its decision not to fund Keytruda at present.

He said it was working with the drug’s manufacturers but the evidence did not show that dozens of lives would be saved if it were available. Another drug known as Opdiva was also being investigated.

Meeting the petitioners, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Government would stay out of the debate but gave a strong hint that Pharmac’s $800 million budget would be increased in the coming Budget.

It is believed that between 20 and 50 people are funding a course of Keytruda themselves at a cost of between $200,000 and $250,000 a year.

Health experts have said that Keytruda is promising but that more needs to be known about it.

Dr Francis Hunter, a research fellow at Auckland University’s cancer research centre, says the Pharmac model is effective and appropriate but $800m is too low.

Some believe that Pharmac could help itself by releasing details of its methodology and even assessments of the likely efficacy of drugs under consideration.

New Zealanders do not want a health system in which only those who can pay will get treatment but it is a fact that about 1.3 million people or 30 percent of the population opt to take out health insurance, creating in effect a two-tier system.

New Zealand’s drug funding agency Pharmac finds itself under real pressure in the debate over whether it should fund the melanoma treatment drug Keytruda, but what the debate shows most clearly is the need for independence and objectivity.

A petition signed by 11,000 was presented to Parliament by melanoma sufferer Leisa Renwick, who is paying for the drug herself.

Any reasonable person would feel sympathy for her and the others battling for their lives against this cruel form of cancer.

But there has to be some sympathy too for Pharmac, which is automatically cast as a villain in the eyes of many.

Pharmac chief executive Steffan Crausaz told TV3’s The Nation programme that the agency stands by its decision not to fund Keytruda at present.

He said it was working with the drug’s manufacturers but the evidence did not show that dozens of lives would be saved if it were available. Another drug known as Opdiva was also being investigated.

Meeting the petitioners, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Government would stay out of the debate but gave a strong hint that Pharmac’s $800 million budget would be increased in the coming Budget.

It is believed that between 20 and 50 people are funding a course of Keytruda themselves at a cost of between $200,000 and $250,000 a year.

Health experts have said that Keytruda is promising but that more needs to be known about it.

Dr Francis Hunter, a research fellow at Auckland University’s cancer research centre, says the Pharmac model is effective and appropriate but $800m is too low.

Some believe that Pharmac could help itself by releasing details of its methodology and even assessments of the likely efficacy of drugs under consideration.

New Zealanders do not want a health system in which only those who can pay will get treatment but it is a fact that about 1.3 million people or 30 percent of the population opt to take out health insurance, creating in effect a two-tier system.

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