Skin cancer drug talks ongoing


A GOVERNMENT decision to open talks on making available a new drug to skin cancer patients has been welcomed by health campaigners.

Senator John Crown, an oncologist who had been lobbying for the drug Ipilimumab – better known as “Ipi” – to be approved, welcomed yesterday’s announcement.

He said it was “fundamentally wrong” that the drug was not available to those who needed it.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Minister for Health James Reilly was in negotiation with the manufacturers of Ipilimumab, commercially called Yervoy, which is used to treat metastatic melanoma.

“There is an issue of the cost involved, and the Minister is negotiating with the relevant companies,” he said.

“I understand a conclusion will be reached quickly, allowing the drug to be released to the market.”

Last September, the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics recommended the drug, produced by Bristol-Myers Squibb, should not be approved for reimbursement under the community drugs scheme as it was not cost-effective.

Its estimated cost was €85,000 per patient and the centre said this could equate to between €4.8 million and €7.4 million this year, increasing to between €5.3 million and €8.2 million in 2016.

While most skin cancers are treatable, metastatic melanoma is very difficult to treat. Some 1,200 people were diagnosed with the condition in 2008 and the five-year survival rate is less than 20 per cent. The drug adds on average 3.7 months to the life of a patient treated with it, but for one in 10 it is a cure. One such woman, HSE paramedic Shirley McEntee, who accessed the drug through trials, said she was given six months to live but her cancer was wiped out by the drug.

A spokesman for the Minister for Health said there was clearly “a real sense of urgency” about the matter.