‘Stick with system’: Harris told after decision to make cervical cancer drug availale to all

Vicky Phelan has said her tumours reduced significantly after taking the drug

A file photograph of CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

A file photograph of CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The head of the National Centre of Pharmaeconomics, Prof Michael Barry, has said the Minister for Health Simon Harris should “stick with the system” when it comes to approving access to drugs.

Prof Barry was commenting this morning on the decision to make the cervical cancer drug Pembrolizumab (Pembro) available to all women with cervical cancer, not just the 221 affected by the CervicalCheck controversy.

Earlier this month, The Irish Times reported that women with cervical cancer would get access to the drug Pembro under plans being brought forward by Mr Harris.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Prof Barry said not everyone responded to the drug, but all patients will now have an opportunity to be treated with it. He thought the decision to make it available to all women with cervical cancer would be seen as “a one off.” He thought it would be best “to stick with the system”.

The decision to approve Pembro for all women with cervical cancer was taken “at Ministerial level”, he added. “Ideally I’d like to see drugs coming through the normal process.”

CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan has said the drug has proved effective in treating her cancer.

The Pembro treatment costs €8,500 a dose, and the medicine is not currently licensed in Europe for the treatment of cervical cancer, but was provided to Ms Phelan off-licence and to other women caught up in the CervicalCheck scandal. Following access to the drug Ms Phelan has said her tumours reduced significantly.

Prof Barry said that the National Centre of Pharmaeconomics is in a position to negotiate with drug manufacturers to get a better price. There should also be a managed access programme along with prior approval to prescribers.

Any doctor seeking to prescribe drugs costing more than €100,000 per patient would require prior approval.