Access to new drug to be extended to all cervical cancer sufferers

Pembro to be made available to all clinically suitable women with cervical cancer

Minister for Health Simon Harris has asked the Medicines Management Programme to look at putting measures in place to expand access to Pembro. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris has asked the Medicines Management Programme to look at putting measures in place to expand access to Pembro. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Women with cervical cancer will get access to a potentially life-saving drug under new plans being brought forward by the Minister for Health.

“Pembro” is licensed in Ireland for some forms of cancer, but not for cervical cancer.

However, women in the 221 group affected by the CervicalCheck controversy can access it. And Vicky Phelan, the Limerick woman whose court case brought the controversy to light, has credited the drug with greatly slowing the progress of her cancer.

There have been calls for the drug to be made available to all women with cervical cancer who need it.

A Government source has said moves are being made to extend the drug out beyond the 221 women.

“The Minister for Health [Simon Harris] has now asked the Medicines Management Programme to look at putting measures in place to expand access to Pembro to all clinically suitable women with cervical cancer as part of an overall national effort to effectively eradicate the disease. This, coupled with the move to HPV testing next year and the HPV vaccine for boys next year. is part of a joined-up effort to realise this vision.

“The Minister met with Prof Michael Barry to discuss this and expects to hear progress very shortly.”

A Government decision to fund the drugs for the women caught up in the CervicalCheck controversy while withholding it from other women with the disease will “explode in everyone’s face”, an Oireachtas committee was previously told.

“You can’t discriminate between two people based on when they got cancer,” Labour TD Alan Kelly said.

Treatment with Pembro costs about €8,500 every three weeks.

“I can’t see how you can distinguish between two women with cervical cancer, one getting it free of charge and others who aren’t,” he said.

Mr Kelly said the drug had received a lot of attention because Vicky Phelan was one of the women who availed of it.

“Leading Irish oncologists have requested that Pembro be made available on trial or a managed-access scheme or for some method to be found so that it can be provided to cancer patients. Oncologists know that this drug has the benefit of allowing patients to be tested in advance to determine their potential response to it,” he said.