PD-1 drug treatment, a life saving drug available in the United States for Australian melanoma cancer patients but with a hefty price tag

PD-1 drug treatment, a life saving drug available in the United States for Australian melanoma cancer patients but with a hefty price tag

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A cancer fighting drug that has shown promise in reducing the size of tumours is available elsewhere, yet not to cancer patients within Australia. For those, who wish to use the drug for their treatment, the option to travel overseas remains open.

However, in order to do so, vast expenses need to be incurred for overseas travel, treatment, lodging and recovery. Many Australians suffering from life threatening cancers do not have the means to do so and have to rely on financial assistance from family, friends and society as a whole.

Known as PD-1, the medication has the potential to help save lives and has shown an 80% survival rate for patients but a single needle of the drug can cost up to $157,000. To have a single consultation with an overseas medical professional, the costs can easily amount to above $40,000 and when the expenses of travelling abroad to receive treatment are added on, the total is unrealistic for most patients and their families.

The lifesaving drug is available in the United States and patients can access the drug on a compassionate basis. However, PD-1 is not expected to be added to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme in Australia until 2016 at the earliest. This means that Australian cancer patients will not have the opportunity to avail the lifesaving drug for yet some time to come. The timeframe that has been laid out before PD-1 may be eligible for subsidy and approval by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee of Australia is a long one and not all cancer patients may have that much time to wait out.

This news is particularly heart wrenching for patients like Jason Johnston, a melanoma sufferer who has been living with the condition for four years. Knowing that a treatment exists to address his condition, yet being unable to avail it because it is not accessible locally makes it very difficult for cancer patients in Australia.

Another melanoma patient, Kate Wagner, has two young children whom she would like to see grow up but her condition may not allow her to do so unless she gets access to the miracle drug PD-1. Currently MS. Wagner has reported to be trialling another PBS approved drug known as Yervoy; one that has demonstrated a 20% success rate only. However, she hopes to lobby and pressurise local pharmaceutical companies to grant access to PD-1 in Australia.

In the meantime her husband has had to give up his job indefinitely to look after their two young kids and Ms. Wagner herself has had to let go of her own baking business.

According to a spokesman for the Australian Department of Health, PD-1 is still in its clinical trial stage in Australia and it falls to the clinicians involved to take on suitable patients for the trial study. The government itself cannot intercede in the trial process.

For many other melanoma patients in Australia, individuals and families are looking to collect the needed funds for treatment with the assistance of local trusts, fundraising events, and other support groups.


1) Wait for cancer drug as Devonport melanoma sufferer and family do it tough: http://www.theadvocate.com.au/story/2231942/wait-for-cancer-drug-as-devonport-melanoma-sufferer-and-family-do-it-tough/?cs=86

2) Cancer drug battle for Benalla mum: https://au.news.yahoo.com/vic/a/22141673/cancer-drug-battle-for-benalla-mum/