New cancer drug to be given to patients free for 30 days

Bristol-Myers Squibb allows compassionate access to nivolumab after appeal by Harris

Pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb is to provide a life-saving new cancer drug on a compassionate basis to Irish patients for another month. File photograph: Getty Images

Pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb is to provide a life-saving new cancer drug on a compassionate basis to Irish patients for another month. File photograph: Getty Images

 

The makers of a life-saving new cancer drug are to provide it 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 Minister for Health Simon Harris for the drug to be made available free to cancer patients while the Government mulls a decision on its approval.

The drug, 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 HSE drugs group is due to meet today to discuss whether to approve nivolumab and another blockbuster treatment, pembrolizumab, for reimbursement.

Nivolumab has been rejected on cost-efficiency grounds by the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, but BMS says it has since submitted a revised price proposal to the HSE for the drug.

The centre has approved pembrolizumab, manufactured by MSD, for first-line treatment of melanoma, but the HSE has delayed the final decision on this since February.

Mr Harris had called on MSD and BMS to “show some compassion” by making the drugs available free through access programmes.

Oncologists have warned patients will die unless they are given access to the drugs. However, both are hugely expensive.

Pembrolizumab, for example, costs an estimated €134,000 per patient per year, and will cost the health service an additional €64 million over five years to replace current therapy.