Hundreds march on Parliament demanding government funding for cancer drugs

Originally published on Stuff

For the past year Wiki Mulholland has been fighting to extend her life – and the lives of others with advanced breast cancer – petitioning for two life-prolonging drugs to be made cheaper.

It’s been an uphill fight so far with neither Ibrance and Kadcyla funded by the government’s drug-buying agency, Pharmac.

Her sister Racheal Tiuka said it was “inhumane” that a drug that cost close to $7000 a month in New Zealand was currently being sold for just $39.99 a month across the ditch.

“Those drugs would prolong her life. It shouldn’t be ‘you’re rich so you can pay for it’. [Wiki] has to decide whether to pay for herself to live, or leave her family in a bad [financial] position.”

Mulholland, Tiuka and about 150 other people marched on Parliament on Tuesday morning calling on the Government to fund several life-prolonging cancer medications, including Ibrance, Kadcycla and Keytruda.

Waiting MPs from both sides of the aisle were on hand to accept a combination of petitions, including one from Lung Foundation CEO Philip Hope, which called for the Government to declare lung cancer a “national health priority” and approve additional funds for Pharmac to fund top lung cancer drugs.

He said the impact on patients to meet the cost of unfunded drugs could cause financial crisis as well as increased risk of suicide.

Representatives from ovarian cancer, leukaemia and myeloma advocacy groups also handed over petitions calling for the funding of their own specific life-prolonging drugs.

Philippa Reed, the chief executive of Sweet Louise – a trust that has supports women and men with breast cancer – also took part in the march, spurred on by the fact the organisation had lost 115 of their members since October last year.

“It’s important to be here to support all of our members to get better treatment and get funding,” she said.

Drugs such as Ibrance and Kadcyla are believed to help prolong the lives of those with advanced breast cancer and have an impact on the efficacy of other lines of treatment.

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt said the organisation understood that New Zealanders living with illness wanted to access to the latest medicines but said Pharmac had “an obligation to follow a robust clinical process to ensure we are buying the most effective medicines.”

“New Zealanders expect us to be rigorous, evidence-based and to make medicines available that benefit a wide range of people, she said.

“Unfortunately, we’ll never be able to fund everything, so the medicines we do fund, must have clear clinical evidence and show they are better than the many, many medicines that Pharmac already funds.”