Drugs that have not yet been subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in Australia but offer immense potential of extending the longevity of patients as well as improving the quality of their life are often so expensive that they are out of access for many critically ill patients. One such drug is Abraxane, a promising treatment for pancreatic cancer patients.
The drug has been observed to improve the patients’ survival rate by 30% when it is used alongside with other therapy. Abraxane is available to pancreatic patients in the United States under subsidy but Australian patients will have to pay a hefty price of $15,000 to access the medication. This means up to 1800 patients in Australia will be denied the life saving benefits of Abraxane unless they can collect $15,000 each for their treatment.
Known to treat both breast cancer as well as pancreatic cancer, the same drug is currently available to breast cancer patients in Australia for a subsidised amount pf $36.10, for those who have exhausted all other treatment options. However, pancreatic cancer patients do not enjoy the same facility. An application to subsidise Abraxane for metastatic pancreatic cancer has been rejected due to conflict on an agreed price.
Until now the drug had been available to patients for a less expensive price tag of $5180 while waiting for a Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme listing, but its supply at that rate has been stopped.
Some lucky patients like Rochelle Cooke, have had the fortune of using Abraxane on the compassionate access fund but many others will not have that opportunity anymore. The compassionate access scheme works by the patients paying for the first treatment while the company distributing the drug dispenses further treatments free of charge.
Others like Sidney Terence, aged 71, look at Abraxane as their last hope, but have to resort to living without it due to cost barriers.
The need to subsidise Abraxane for progressive pancreatic cancer treatment is urgent as this type of cancer happens to be one of the most deadly types. If left untreated, the cancer has the potential to claim the lives of 80% of its sufferers within a year’s time. Like other rare cancers pancreatic cancer treatment is not as advanced or well known as other most common types of cancers.
However, based on research results published in the New England Journal of Medicine, with the help of Abraxane the average survival rate of patients may go up from 6.7 months to 8.5 months. One year survival rates have been known to go up from 22% to 35% while after two years the figures have gone up from 4% to 9%.
The conflict over Abraxane further aggravates when one set of patients diagnosed with breast cancer can access the medication easily as it is funded through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme while another group suffering from pancreatic cancer is unable to do so and needs to dish out $15,000 for it. To many this seems highly unfair where access to medication is concerned in Australia.
1) Cancer patients to miss out on breakthrough drug: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2014/s3973197.htm
2) Drug offers hope for pancreas cancer: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/breaking-news/drug-offers-hope-for-pancreas-cancer/story-fni0xqlk-1226742051604
3) Pancreatic cancer patients To Pay $15,000 or miss out: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/pancreatic-cancer-patients-to-pay-15000-or-miss-out/story-fni0fiyv-1226865659707