Pharmac, the government drug funding agency has confirmed that herceptin, a drug used for treating breast cancer will remain unfunded, in spite of ongoing criticism over the decision. The deputy medical director of Pharmac, Dilky Rasiah said that the drug is highly expensive and funding could not be justified. The recommendation is a responsible one, she says and has been arrived at after complete investigation of the evidence.
Dr. Rasiah added that Pharmac had to consider the cost implications of the drug against the uncertainty of the available clinical evidence and also its effectiveness compared to other drugs. It also had to take into account whether the investment could be justified over the other drugs being evaluated by Pharmac.
There has been controversy over this issue since July when funding was first turned down for a 12 month treatment of early breast cancer. It is subsidized only for late stage Her2 breast cancer. Among the criticizers is Roche, which is outraged that New Zealand is the only developed nation that has declined funding. The Australian government's recent decision to subsidize the drug should have influenced Pharmac to do the same in New Zealand, argue advocacy groups.
According to Dr. Jackie Blue, spokesperson for National Associate Health, the fact that Pharmac is funding herceptin for advanced breast cancer, while denying it in the early stages, probably means that it wants a cheaper option.
But the District Health Boards (DHB) are in agreement with Pharmac. Their spokesperson, David Meates, said though the decision was difficult, it was the right one for New Zealand's situation which is unique in its funding structure and decision framework.
Dr. Rasiah assured that Pharmac would continue to review any fresh evidence on herceptin. The feasibility of a 9 week course of treatment is also being investigated.