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Pharmac Says It `Respects' Govt Second-Guessing Herceptin Choice

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, March 26 NZPA - Pharmac chief executive Matthew Brougham said he respects the Government's decision to supplant the agency's decision to fund only nine-week courses of the breast cancer drug Herceptin with new funding for one-year courses.

"We took decision on Herceptin in light of our statutory objective," he told Parliament's health select committee yesterday, during the agency's first meeting with the new committee.

"We fully respect the decision of the Government to fund 12 months' Herceptin, and have worked actively to support implementation of this decision."

But asked by Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway, of Palmerston North, whether Pharmac would have provided 12-month funding if it had had more money available to it, Mr Brougham said there was still a degree of uncertainty between the two regimes, and the impacts they would have.

"There's going to be a divergence of views ... it's not a pure science like maths," he said. "At the moment we still believe that there is insufficient evidence to say that nine weeks or 12 months is better than the other."

Pharmac had been faced with trying to get as many health benefits as it could out of the money available.

"Most medical scientists around the world agree that the issue of whether nine weeks or 12 months -- whether one is better or worse than the other -- remains unanswered."

Mr Brougham noted that there was a continuing trial comparing the two regimes, with about 250 women signed up, including 30 New Zealanders.

Pharmac chairman, Richard Waddel, told the committee that the agency understood disappointment among members of the public when funding decisions did not go the way they wanted.

"We can't avoid making difficult funding choices, whatever the size of the budget," he said.

In December last year, the new Government moved to fund extended courses of Herceptin directly through the Health Ministry, rather than through Pharmac.

National pledged during last year's election campaign to extend funding for the drug for Her-2 positive breast cancer from nine weeks to 12 months.

Pharmac had refused to fund more than a nine-week course saying scientific and other information had failed to convince it that the longer course offered any additional benefits over the nine-week treatment it did fund, and former Health Minister David Cunliffe said he could not overrule Pharmac.

Pharmac said it helped the ministry in its negotiations with supplier Roche and by providing information.

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