Melanoma patients deliver petition to parliament

7:48 am on 2 March 2016

Patients with advanced melanoma told the government today they need the immunotherapy drug Keytruda and they need it soon.

At least 40 patients and their families presented a petition to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman at Parliament demanding access to the hotly-debated drug.

Watch the Leisa Renwick interview on Checkpoint here:

A petition signed by 11,085 people was presented to Dr Coleman by Leisa Renwick.

Tauranga-based patient with advanced melanoma, Leisa Renwick, outside Parliament today to present a petition to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman.

Tauranga-based patient with advanced melanoma, Leisa Renwick, outside Parliament today to present a petition to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

After handing over the petition she told Checkpoint with John Campbell time was running out for many of the people at parliament today.

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"There's nothing else for melanoma patients, there's no other hope but for these drugs, and melanoma is such a fast-acting disease if it [the decision] takes a couple of months people will be dead."

Ms Renwick said if money could be spent on a flag referendum it could be spent on saving lives.

"If we have money to spend on that, surely we have money to spend saving people's lives and if not, tell them the flag is more important than they are, that farms in Saudi Arabia are more important."

An American cancer specialist Dr Antoni Ribas told Checkpoint with John Campbell he urged Dr Coleman to provide an effective funded treatment in November when he was here for a summit.

He was among a group of specialists who met Dr Coleman to discuss their worries.

He told Checkpoint that chemotherapy, using dacarbazine, is presently the only option for melanoma patients, but it is ineffective.

"I was appalled by the country with the highest incidence of melanoma being stuck with a chemotherapy drug, a four year old drug, when there's many others that have been proven to be superior."

He described dacarbazine as "marginally efficacious."

"You could make an argument that in some patients it's not even worth trying."

Dr Coleman also appearing on Checkpoint said he was optimistic a new treatment would be funded.

"Something inevitably is going to happen in this area in terms of Pharmac funding a melanoma drug, but they're in complex commercial negotiations, they've just got to work through those."

He said Pharmac's money was all spoken for so it was a matter of getting more money into the agency in the May budget.

He said Keytruda was not the only option and Pharmac would consider all available therapies as the science was moving so fast.

"We're moving on to this new class of drugs, we weren't having this debate a year ago. We are now. So there's going to be more of these drugs, there's a number of drugs in the same class as Keytruda.

"Pharmac has to work out which will be the most effective for the greatest number of people."

Dr Coleman said it was "very, very likely" there would be more money for Pharmac in the Budget.

"No final budget decisions have been made, but I will be strongly advocating that we need more money for Pharmac - but I can't guarantee Keytruda will be funded, but it looks like a melanoma treatment is on the way, they've just got to work out which is the best possible one."

Dr Coleman said Pharmac was in negotiations with a number of drug companies and that the government would stand at arms-length from Pharmac and let it make a decision that was in the best interests of the greatest number of New Zealanders.

A patient with advanced melanoma, Jeff Patterson, at Parliament with his mother, Anita Woodger.

A patient with advanced melanoma, Jeff Patterson, at Parliament with his mother, Anita Woodger. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

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