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Life-saving drug subsidies for thousands of patients battling rare cancers

16 Jul 2018 at 12:00 AM

WHEN dietitian Nathalie Cook discovered she had a rare blood cancer almost a decade ago, the devastating diagnosis came as a shock.

The busy mum had ignored a series of insignificant and seemingly unrelated symptoms such as headaches, itchy skin and burning hands and feet, until one day her vision went blurry and she called her doctor.

Nathalie, 54, would have been be forgiven for choosing to cut back at work to spend more time with her family and friends, but instead she began a decade-long campaign for subsidised cancer treatments for people suffering from rare and often deadly cancers such as myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN).

Today, Ms Cook will join Health Minister Greg Hunt who will announce a $250 million package to subsidise four life-changing cancer medicines, in what is believed to be the first consumer-instigated drug listing in Australia.

The decision will save thousands of patients up to $130,000 a year when the drugs are listed on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme from August 1.

For the past 10-years Ms Cook has travelled the world to global health conferences, lobbied politicians and harassed drug companies for access to the life-changing drug Pegasys.

In 2013 she was offered the drug, which can cost more than $18,000 per year, on compassionate grounds but it didn’t stop her campaigning on behalf of those who no longer could.

“Immediately my quality of life improved and my hair grew back,” she said.

“I decided I wasn’t going to give up, I felt I was in a position to do what I could to help others.

“For me, it became a challenge and helping people access this drug made me feel that some good could come of my diagnosis.

“As a community healthcare worker it’s in my DNA to want to help people.”

Ms Cook told The Sunday Telegraph the listing would change the lives of the 1125 patients with rare types of leukaemia cancers, including myeloproliferative neoplasms, who would otherwise pay more than $18,000 per year for the medications.

Almost 1000 patients with a type of head and neck cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, who would otherwise pay almost $50,000 per year for Opdivo will pay a maximum of $39.50 per script or just $6.40 per script for concessional patients.

Around 220 patients with a rare type of lymphoma cancer — relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma — who would otherwise pay $134,000 for Imbruvica, will also have discounted access from August.

And more than 1500 patients who are receiving chemotherapy for cancer treatment will have cheaper access to Neulasta which helps the body to make new white blood cells.

Mr Hunt said strong economic management meant the Turnbull Government was able to provide Australian patients with access to lifesaving and life-changing medicines quicker than ever before.

“We are now making on average one new PBS listing every single day,” Mr Hunt said.

“Since coming into Government, the Coalition has helped improve the health of Australians by subsidising more than $9 billion worth of new medicines.”

Nathalie Cook has battled a rare blood cancer for nearly 10 years.


 The original version of this article appeared here. 

 

Category: Rare Cancers in the News
Tags: Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, cancer, Greg Hunt, Head, ibrutinib, imbruvica, Janssen, leukaemia, lymphoma, medicine, myeloproliferative neoplasms, Nathalie Cook, Neck, Neulasta, neutropenia, nivolumab, opdivo, PBAC, PBS, pegfilgrastim, relapsed or refractory mantle cell, squamous cell carcinoma, subsidised, treatment,