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Should New Cancer Drugs be available more quickly on the PBS?

Paul Edwards

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Last month Independent Senator Nick Xenophon announced a Senate Inquiry into The availability of new, innovative and specialist cancer drugs in Australia.


The terms of reference are:

  1. the timing and affordability of access for patients; 
  2. the operation of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in relation to such drugs, including the impact of delays in the approvals process for Australian patients; 
  3. the impact on the quality of care available to cancer patients; and 
  4. any related matters.



We all read about new cancer drugs which are being developed.


Many of these new drugs are extremely expensive.  Unless they are subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, we cannot afford them.


Cancer patients in other countries have access to new drugs long before we get access in Australia.


For example, take the case of Zytiga (abiraterone acetate).  Remember the lengthy campaign that we had to get Zytiga listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.


In April 2011 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Zytiga  in combination with prednisone (a steroid) to treat patients with late-stage (metastatic) castration-resistant prostate cancer who have received prior docetaxel (chemotherapy).


In December 2012 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Zytiga for use pre-chemotherapy.


In August 2014 Zytiga became available in Australia on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme post-chemotherapy.  It is still not available in Australia on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme pre-chemotherapy.




We will be putting in a submission to the Senate Enquiry on behalf of members,  Submissions close in the last week of February 2015.


Have you been unable to get access to a cancer drug that you wanted to use?   Do you have any suggestions about how we can get new drugs available more quickly in Australia?


What do you think?   Let us have your comments so that we can include them in our submission.


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