Prostate News

Funded drug hoped to improve quality of life for prostate cancer sufferers

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A drug that improves quality of life for men in the late-stages of prostate cancer is now funded by Pharmac.

Abiraterone acetate, known as Zytiga, has been available for some time, but its high price tag means many who could benefit from using it have been unable to afford it.

Prostate Cancer Foundation of NZ’s chief executive Graeme Woodside says the funding decision is a big deal for those who suffer from the illness.

“I think probably the word excited is not too strong a term,” says Mr Woodside.

“The reason being is there hasn’t been a late-stage prostate cancer drug available to men and so this is the first of probably a number of new drugs that will come on stream for men with late-stage prostate cancer.”

As well as improving quality of life, the drug can add time to cancer sufferers’ life expectancy too.

“The studies say [it adds] four-a-half-months but we know of men who have been on it for 12 months or so and certainly what they report is that their whole quality of life is improved significantly and it seems to be able to maintain them at a good quality of life including continuing to able to work and relate to their family as normal during that period, so it is really beneficial.”

Tony Nicklin was diagnosed with prostate cancer eight years ago and expects to start taking Zytiga next year. He says the biggest attraction of the treatment is the hope of improving his life quality.

“I’m into quality of life rather than quantity,” says Mr Nicklin.

Without funding the treatment costs around $60,000 a year, something Mr Nicklin says put the drug out of reach of many who didn’t have private health insurance.

“I’m happy and excited for myself – it’s providing a level of comfort, there’s another pathway if you like, another stage in the pathway – but more importantly just looking for other cancer sufferers whether in my stage of worse and those that couldn’t before, who had no insurance. I really felt for them, so I’m really, really happy about that.”

The oral medicine is available for men whose cancer has progressed after hormone deprivation treatment and can be taken before or after chemotherapy. It inhibits the growth of cancer cells by blocking the production of hormones and is the only late-stage prostate cancer drug currently available through Pharmac funding.

Chris Hourigan, managing director of Janssen, the company that produces the drug, says the funding approval is a landmark decision.

“This fills a longstanding gap for New Zealand men with advanced prostate cancer – a disease that touches almost every New Zealand family in one way or another, and has profound and life-changing impacts,” says Mr Hourigan.

Around 3000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in New Zealand, with around 600 men losing their life to the illness.

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