State reaches deal on cost with cancer drug producer


THE CANCER drug Ipilimumab will be made available to patients who have a very aggressive form of malignant melanoma, the Department of Health announced yesterday evening.

The Health Service Executive and the National Cancer Control Programme said in a statement that it had reached agreement with the drug’s manufacturers, Bristol-Myers Squibb, following negotiations going back to November.

It is anticipated that 60 Irish patients will be eligible for the treatment this year. The statement outlined that the drug had a “modest” impact on some patients, prolonging their lives by an average of less than a year, but in a minority of patients it led to a “sustained improvement in control of their cancer and in survival”.

The drug had been turned down by the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics last year on the basis of cost, but a concerted campaign by oncologists and patients has led to a change of mind. The centre originally claimed that, at €85,000 per patient, it was too expensive given that a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found a median survival rate of 3.7 months extra for patients taking it.

Minister for Health James Reilly said he was pleased negotiations had been successful. He cautioned, however, that only one in 10 patients would gain substantial benefits from the drug and a further one in 10 would get some benefit from it.

He said that, in the course of negotiations, the HSE managed to get a “much more realistic price” for the drug and he complimented the manufacturer and the HSE.

Oncologists including Prof John Crown had argued in favour of the drug, saying it led to a cure in a minority of patients who would have otherwise died, while others were kept alive long enough to try new treatments.

Among those lobbying for the drug was mother-of-three Cathy Durkin, who was diagnosed with malignant melanoma last year. Her family has raised €50,000 to give her the treatment she needs.