A type of severe skin cancer, melanoma has the highest incidence prevalence in Australia. It is more commonly found in young people between the ages of 15-39 years when compared to other types of cancers. Melanoma happens to be the third most common type of cancer affecting the Australian population with about 12,500 new diagnosis yearly and another 1,500 deaths from this type of cancer.
Although melanoma only makes up about 2.3% of all skin cancers in Australia, yet it is accountable for 75% of all deaths caused by skin cancer. On average one person dies from melanoma every seven hours in Australia. Given the high incidence of skin cancer in the country it is estimated that two in three Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70 years old. Looking at these statistics, it is hard to believe that Australia has not yet subsidised the lifesaving melanoma drug treatment called Zelboraf on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Zelboraf is available in other countries where it is funded by government health services programs and available to eligible patients at no cost. But Australian patients have not gotten a chance to avail this facility.
Since 2006, a selected 206 patients have had the opportunity to use Zelboraf through its manufacturer’s, Roche, clinical trials. In addition another 315 patients have been treated with the drug through the patient access program later. But that program has now been discontinued as Roche has been informed that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee has revoked the drug’s inclusion on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for a second time.
The deadlock is reached over the drug’s price as Roche managing director, Fred Nadjarian, stressed that the suggested price for the drug was much lower than that for public funding elsewhere such as in Canada and Britain. However, the government implies that the cancer treating drug still needs to stack up financially before it can be subsidised for everyone in the country.
As a result Roche will no longer be taking on any new patients in the program. Those who have already been enrolled in the patient access program will not be impacted and will go on receiving treatment until disease progression. Patients who wish to use the drug to treat their condition will be expected to procure one week’s treatment at $2,385. The drug is taken as a twice a day pill.
Based on study statistics, using Zelboraf increased the average survival of melanoma patients by 15.9 months. This is a huge improvement when compared to others whose typical survival averaged at nine months. For 23 per cent of the patients, the drug assisted in shrinking the melanomas by more than 30 % while another 30 % saw their tumours become smaller though not as much. The drug failed to draw out a response in 14 % of the patients.
Since patients suffering from advanced melanoma do not have too many treatment options to avail, making Zelboraf available through the PBS will greatly improve their chance of controlling their condition and leading a better quality of life.
1) Zelboraf – New Skin Cancer Drug: http://drsircus.com/medicine/cancer/zelboraf-skin-cancer-drug
2) Patients urge subsidy for cancer drugs: https://au.news.yahoo.com/a/17368239/patients-urge-subsidy-for-cancer-drugs/
3) Melanoma Institute Australia Media Release 13 February 2014: http://www.melanoma.org.au/images/Files/Media_releases/2014-02-13_MSLTI_Results.pdf
4) Zelboraf denied inclusion on the PBS listing in Australia: http://www.melanoma.org.nz/MelNet/News/What’s-Happening/2013/April/23/Zelboraf-denied-inclusion-on-the-PBS-listing-in-Australia/
5) New drug Zelboraf to treat advanced skin cancer nearly doubles average survival time: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/new-drug-zelboraf-to-treat-advanced-skin-cancer-nearly-doubles-average-survival-time/story-fn6ccwsa-1226279644660