14 Feb 2011

More blood cancer drugs to be bought by agency

9:51 am on 14 February 2011

Pharmac is poised to approve an expansion of the medicines it funds for those with a form of blood cancer.

Medical director Dr Peter Moodie discussed the changes in an address on Sunday in Wellington to an international symposium on cancer.

He said the State drug-buying agency is recommending to its board that bortezomib, a more effective drug, be funded for some of those diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Bortezomib is also more expensive.

Multiple myeloma is technically a tumour of the plasma cells in the bone marrow.

Pharmac is also recommending the use of thalidomide be expanded.

Thalidomide has become one of the standard treatments for those with multiple myeloma, but until now it's been available only to those who have relapsed. About 270 patients are on it.

Radio New Zealand's health correspondent says these moves would cost more than $27 million.

Palmerston North blood cancer expert Bart Baker says bortezomib will be a welcome addition for multiple myeloma patients.

Coincidentally, he was the first doctor to import thalidomide into New Zealand, in the 1980s, for these patients.

Thalidomide was notorious for causing defects in children when given to women who were pregnant.