Keytruda gets the middle finger as Pharmac gets more money

Access to a drug to fight melanoma could be a step closer, with more funding in store for the Government’s drug-buying agency.

Pharmac will get an extra $39 million over two years in this year’s Budget, Prime Minister John Key and Health Minister Jonathan Coleman announced this morning.

Pharmac says it’s excited by the boost, and has opened consultation on seven new treatments — including one for melanoma.

No specific drugs were mentioned, but the Government has been under pressure to fund Keytruda or rival Opdivo, touted as wonder-drugs in the fight against melanoma. New Zealand has the worst rates of the cancer in the world.

“Pharmac will be the sole decision-maker of what those drugs are,” says Mr Key. “The Government in no way wants to interfere with the independence of Pharmac, but it is giving it greater optionality by providing it more funding.”

Pharmac is consulting on nivolumab, marketed as Opdivo, in the same treatment class as Keytruda.

Opdivo has been approved for use against melanoma by New Zealand’s medicines regulator MedSafe.

“We’ve taken the data package for Opdivo through our clinical experts and they’ve advised us the clinical data is of good quality, well-structured and gives greater confidence that there is a survival gain for patients that receive it,” Pharmac chief executive Steffan Crausaz says.

Trying to force government into Keytruda through lobbying the Labour party to run a damaging campaign has come back to bite.  

“Pharmac works within a fixed budget and has to make tough decisions. It looks for the best health gains for the greatest number of New Zealanders.”

Last year, more than 70,000 New Zealanders benefited from 41 new medicines. Around 3.5 million New Zealanders got a funded medicine in 2014/15.

Mr Crausaz says the consultation follows today’s pre-Budget announcement.

“This increase comes after a robust medicines budget process, during which Pharmac advised that there are a number of good medicine funding opportunities, to significantly increase health outcomes for New Zealanders,” Mr Crausaz.

The seven drugs up for consultation are:

  • nivolumab (Opdivo) for advanced melanoma
  • Harvoni and Viekira Pak for hepatitis C infection
  • azithromycin for bronchiectasis in children
  • temozolomide for brain tumours and neuroendocrine tumours
  • rituximab for nephrotic syndrome in children
  • oestradiol patches for menopausal women.

Take that Keytruda.  Next time you might consider using people who can get the job done, instead of Mr 7% and his failing union-driven political mess of a party.


– Newshub


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  • contractor

    Little should have seen the ironic risks of pushing for a drug whose name begins with Key!

  • PsychoKea

    I dare say BMS have done their homework a lot better with Opdivo than the strategy deployed by MSD with Keytruda, taking the time to get multiple indications for your product through Med safe means it’s more likely the drug will be the winner in the PD-1 immunotherapy battle, rather than Keytruda which has been presented as a one trick pony.

  • Dave

    Wait for little to declare a crisis if Opdivo is approved ahead of KeyTruda, the cries of foul, manipulation etc will be loud and ongoing. Cant have anyone making decisions he doesn’t like, or has accepted what could be seen as bribes over. We need to seriously question WHY he and his mates met with any drug companies, and what they hoped to achieve?

    • KGB

      Annette King says the can cos they’re opposition…so there!
      Seriously though Dave I agree. Labour however supply their own answer to the question by way of constant accusations. Polititians meet with lobby groups in the interests of corruption and/or fundraising/bribes.
      Ummm Labours broke.

  • localnews

    Labour did lobby for melanoma drugs to be funded, and again they have gotten their way. Although they seem disorganised, it seems every week there is an announcement that the National government is adopting another Labour policy or decision. It doesnt help Andrew Little become prime minister, but he doesnt really have to as National morph into the Labour party.
    I cant think of a time when John Key bowed to pressure from a right wing lobby group

    • Keeping Stock

      Pharmac was already assessing melanoma drugs localnews, but could not fund them from within the current budget. Increased funding in the Budget was signalled prior to Christmas.

      • localnews

        I was assessing it in the context of land tax, sugar taxes, increasing tax for foreign big business, refugees, maternity leave etc. The pressure from Andrew Little gets results, there dont seem to have been many gains for the people that voted John Key in

        • Davo42

          What sugar tax? National are firmly against it, I take your point on some of the other compromises which are seen as opposition wins, but adding a sugar tax to the list is just making stuff up.

          • localnews

            You are of course correct.
            I forgot the Auckland rail loop, weren’t they also firmly against that?
            Another 20 articles on stuff, a couple more episodes of Fair go…

    • sarah

      Actually Labour specifically lobbied for KeyTruda

    • Rebecca

      For clarity, Pharmac’s PTAC committee had reviewed pembrolizumab (Keytruda) before this furor began and had issued a recommendation to fund it, but with low priority pending more of the scientific connection between cost and benefit that Pharmac applies to all its decisions. Manufacturer MSD could and still can provide extra evidence to allow reconsideration. Meanwhile, addition of funds potentially shifts the decision point for 7 drugs independent of “lobbying” for particular drugs to bypass the selection process.