24 September 2022
Pharmac is failing NZ men through lack of funding for prostate cancer medicines
We’ve all seen the headlines – every week someone is calling on Pharmac and the Government to increase funding and provide access to life saving cancer drugs. But rather than prioritise medicines that are clinically proven and recommended by international guidelines our drug funding continues to fall woefully short, says Peter Dickens, CEO of Prostate Cancer Foundation New Zealand (PCFNZ).
“Pharmac’s $1.245 billion of drug funding for FY22/23 sounds like a big number, but if you break that down by the team of five million the actual number is equivalent to $249 for every New Zealander,” says Dickens. “Sound small? That’s because it is. Across the ditch our Aussie neighbours get three times that – with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme allocating $749 in medicines for every man, woman and child in Australia.”
And it’s not just an inability to allocate sufficient funds. Approval of treatment options is lagging as well. Across all prostate cancer types, our men are being let down. A quick comparison of treatment options in Australia versus New Zealand shows the stark differences.
- Metastatic castration (hormone)-sensitive prostate cancer (mCSPC)
- New Zealand – Funded: Docetaxel
- Australia – Funded: Docetaxel Awaiting funding: Apalutamide; Enzalutamide
- Non-metastatic castration (hormone)-resistant prostate cancer (nmCRPC)
- New Zealand – None funded
- Australia – Funded: Apalutamide; Darolutamide
- Metastatic castration (hormone – resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC)
- New Zealand – Funded: Abiraterone* (*Special Authority criteria apply that limits access to this medicine for some men)
- Australia – Funded: Abiraterone; Cabazitaxel; Enzalutamide; Olaparib (for BRCAm patients)
BRCAm: germline or somatic mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
Compared to their Australian counterparts New Zealand men are being disadvantaged, have less options and are likely dying earlier as a result.
Dr Peter Fong, a Consultant Medical Oncologist, and the Tumour Team Lead in Genitourinary Medical Oncology of Auckland Hospital, agrees. He strongly feels that patients with advanced prostate cancer should have health care access to all the various specialities, especially medical oncology, who can advise on all the drug treatment options available.
“Delays in funding decisions are one of the factors adversely affecting the health and social outcomes of New Zealand men with advanced prostate cancer. New medicines that treat the disease earlier and provide significant survival and quality of life gains are funded in other countries but not in New Zealand,” says Dr Fong.
“Additionally, in Aotearoa we are also seeing Māori men being disproportionately disadvantaged. Māori men have significantly poorer survival outcomes with a prostate cancer mortality rate over 1.5 times higher than non-Māori. Why? Inequities and other factors mean that Māori men are more at risk of having their cancer detected at a later stage when it is more advanced. They then do not have access to the drugs that can treat it and make a difference to these statistics.”
According to Dickens there are two courses of action that will change these outcomes and mean the difference between life and death for New Zealand men with prostate cancer. The first is better and more equitable access to testing and early detection of the disease. The second is faster funding approval and access to medicines proven to extend men’s lives, prevent disease progression and provide better quality of life.
“Access to, and funding of, medicines that reduce the risk of men developing metastases and dying is critical,” adds Dickens. “And for thousands of men it would mean delaying being able to spend more time with their families and friends.
PCFNZ is committed to advocating for New Zealand men living with prostate cancer, to ensure they get better health outcomes.
“As part of Blue September, PCFNZ’s primary fundraising event, we are asking New Zealanders to give a voice to all the men diagnosed with prostate cancer by signing Kris Hayward’s petition,” says Dickens. “Kris is asking for a change in policy or in how testing for prostate cancer by PSA blood test and digital rectal examination (DRE) are routinely offered to all age-appropriate men throughout New Zealand. By supporting Kris and Blue September, you will be supporting the 1 in 8 Kiwi men affected by prostate cancer.”
‘Do Something Blue’ to help a mate through during the month of September and help give a voice to New Zealand men living with prostate cancer – www.blueseptember.org.nz.
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PCFNZ plays a vital role in raising awareness of prostate cancer in Aotearoa New Zealand. It has 45 support networks across New Zealand providing valuable support and resources to men with prostate cancer and their families. Every year PCFNZ commits significant funds to New Zealand-based research on finding better diagnosis and treatment options for prostate cancer. The Foundation is 100% funded by donors and receives no direct government funding.
For further comment or to arrange an interview contact:
021 231 9406
Prostate Cancer Foundation of NZ
027 444 5779