The Federal Government will subsidise cost of a new cancer-fighting medicine to help ease the financial strain for leukaemia patients in Australia.
Imbruvica is a tablet for patients living with the most common form of leukaemia, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), and will be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) from December 1.
The medicine can cost up to $100,000 per year, but the government assistance would reduce those costs to $38.80 per month, or $6.30 per month for patients with concession cards.
Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch said more than 1500 Australians were diagnosed with this type of cancer each year.
“It affects the white blood cells that normally produce antibodies that protect the body from infections,” he said.
Mr Petch said sufferers were often susceptible to serious infections, which were sometimes life-threatening, but the new drug had proven to be effective in helping patients.
“What Imbruvica does is block a particular protein that stimulates the leukaemia cells growth,” he said.
The new medicine had been trialled overseas and in Australia since 2010, and was officially registered in April 2015.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made the announcement at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital.
Professor Stephen Mulligan from RNS was involved in the clinical trials and said Imbruvica would help patients in situations where standard therapies had not worked.
“Generally for the vast majority of patients it’s actually been very well tolerated,” he said.
“It’s very simple to take and it’s really made a huge difference to patients who have had leukaemia that’s failed standard treatment.”
He said listing the drug would give patients access to a much-needed treatment without the financial burden.
“The drug is, typically, in the way we are using it at the moment, required indefinitely, so to have it subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is going to be a great relief for a lot of patients to maintain their long-term supply of the drug.”
Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital haematologist Dr Chan Cheah further supported the Government’s move, and said the medicine provided a wider range of options to patients.
“It’s effective for people who chemotherapy no longer works for, and in people who are considered too unwell to have chemotherapy because of other health problems,” he said.
Leukaemia patients says, ‘It’s given me life’
Maria Bavcevich, 67, was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2006.
“I was diagnosed through an exam of the thyroids,” she said.
“I didn’t have any problems for probably five years, and then after that I started feeling very tired, fatigued, lethargic.”
Maria was then told she would need chemotherapy, which would cure her for at least three to five years.
“It came back after two years,” she said.
“I ended up back in hospital for three weeks with infection and they couldn’t find out what was wrong, but it was horrible. I had really bad sweats and shivering.”
Her doctor offered the trial of Imbruvica, but a secondary diagnosis of a liver problem meant she had to wait another 12 months before having access to the drug.
“I started this treatment in late January. My lymphs were so swollen and lymph glands under my arms were very sore,” she said.
“It took probably a couple of months and slowly everything went back to normal.”
Dr Cheah said the drug had been well tolerated and had minor side-effects.
“A little bit of diarrhoea, tiredness and some bruising are the main side effects, but there are many patients who don’t notice any side effects at all,” he said.
Maria said bruising was the only side effect she had noticed, and that paled in comparison to the positives she had reaped.
“It’s given me life,” she said. “I’m able to do most everything I want to. I look after my grandchildren and do gardening, which I love.
“Now I feel on top of the world.”