Reilly in talks over skin cancer drug

Thu, May 3, 2012, 01:00

MINISTER FOR Health Dr James Reilly was having discussions about the release of a drug to treat skin cancer, the Dáil was told.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the drug, Ipiluminab, was on release in the UK on trial, but it was refused in Australia. The estimated cost per person was about €85,000. “There is an issue of the cost involved, and the Minister is negotiating with the relevant companies. I understand a conclusion will be reached quickly, allowing the drug to be released to the market.”

He said the evidence was that for one in 10 people the drug provided a really good reprieve, depending on circumstances, while in other cases it was short-term.

He was replying to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who said skin cancer was very common in Ireland because the majority of people had fair skin. More than 1,200 people were diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2008 alone. Fortunately, the majority of skin cancers were treatable, but metastatic melanoma was one of the deadliest forms and more common among younger people.

Mr Martin said the drug represented the most significant breakthrough in 30 years for the treatment of serious skin cancers, and had been classified as being twice as effective as the nearest competitive drug. Nevertheless, it was not being provided or funded by the Minister or the Department of Health.

“This is despite the fact that the National Cancer Control Programme recommended to the HSE in January that the drug be made available,’’ he added.

Mr Kenny said there had not been a deliberate hold-up. “Ireland has always been to the fore in the use of breakthrough drugs. The drug is available at other locations, but one does not qualify for reimbursement of the cost.’’