28 Jun 2016

Pharmac agrees plan to fund Keytruda

7:10 pm on 28 June 2016

Pharmac is planning to fund a second expensive drug for advanced melanoma that could be available as soon as September.

A bright  yellow and aqua sphere, representing the immune system, sits alongside a brown cancer sphere with little goemetric shapes between indicating the drug's action

Manufacturer's illustration of how Keytruda stops cancer cells hiding from the immune system Photo: Supplied

The drug-buying agency has reached a deal with the provider, Merck Sharpe & Dohme, for the supply of Keytruda, and is seeking feedback on the plan.

The company's director, Paul Smith, said patients could be receiving the drug from 1 September, all going well.

In the meantime, it will fund two months' supply for patients.

Pharmac last month decided to fund Opdivo for melanoma, instead of Keytruda, saying it had concerns about the evidence supporting the latter treatment.

Leisa Renwick, who cashed in her retirement savings to pay for Keytruda herself at the cost of $150,000 a year, is one of those who have been lobbying for the drug to be funded.

"People were dying who could have been saved," she said. "It's a fact."

Ms Renwick told Checkpoint with John Campbell melanoma was a nasty disease and the drug won't work on everyone - some people would die.

"But now people have a chance. They have a chance to fight, and I think everybody deserves a chance to fight."

She was incredibly grateful for a second chance, after being diagnosed as terminally ill in May last year and told she only had a few months to live. The tumours have since disappeared.

"I'm living my life, I'm being treated and the treatment is proving effective. It's keeping my cancer gone, which is where I want it to be - gone."

"[Now] other people have the same chance and that's the way it should be. Everyone should have their chance."

The consultation period ends on 12 July.