HSE set to make new drug available to melanoma sufferers

Pembrolizumab to be included in drugs scheme three months after economic approval

Minister for Health Simon Harris asked for a report this week on the HSE deliberations on new cancer drugs. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris asked for a report this week on the HSE deliberations on new cancer drugs. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The HSE is expected to make a new cancer drug available free to patients with melanoma.

Pembrolizumab should be included in the State drugs scheme for the treatment of melanoma, the HSE drugs group has recommended.

The decision comes three months after the drug was approved on cost effectiveness grounds by the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics. Oncologists had warned patients would die as a result of the delay in making the decision.

Minister for Health Simon Harris had asked for a report this week on the HSE deliberations on new cancer drugs.

Pembrolizumab, which costs almost €70,000 per patient per year, will be made available to about 130 patients, according to its manufacturer, MSD.

Nivolumab

The group made no decision on a second cancer drug, nivolumab, used for the treatment of melanoma and lung cancer. This drug has not been recommended for reimbursement under the State drug schemes on cost grounds.

The makers of nivolumab are to make it available on a compassionate basis to Irish patients for another month.

Pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) made the announcement in response to an appeal by Mr Harris for the drug to be made available free to cancer patients while the Government mulls a decision on approving it.

Nivolumab will be made available through the company’s compassionate access programme for patients with advanced lung cancer for 30 days, BMS told The Irish Times.

This will allow people with lung cancer who have limited options the opportunity to benefit from the potentially life-extending medicine, it said.

The compassionate access programme, under which 200 patients received the drug free, has operated since May 2015 but was due to close yesterday. All patients currently receiving nivolumab will continue receiving it, but the latest announcement means a small number of additional patients will also be provided with the drug.

The company says it has submitted a revised pricing proposal to the HSE, which has the final decision on approval.

Mr Harris welcomed the decision by BMS to extend access to some patients.