New Compassionate Access Pharmaceutical Scheme

In this article:

  1. AstraZeneca announce new compassionate access scheme for ovarian cancer
  2. Pharmac respond to our submission on Avastin

AstraZeneca have announced a new compassionate access scheme to give more women access to Olaparib sooner.

Their compassionate access scheme gives those newly diagnosed with high-grade serous ovarian cancer (including fallopian and peritoneal), who also have a germline BRCA mutation (about 20-25% of high-grade serous) and whose cancer responds to platinum based chemotherapy – access to Olaparib maintenance therapy after the completion of chemotherapy.

Provided criteria is met, AstraZeneca will provide the medication at no cost (though there may be some associated pharmacy fees/government tax).

This allows women to start treatment immediately, ahead of Pharmac’s funding which will begin later in the year.

Women who think they may be eligible should speak to their oncologist. Cure Our Ovarian Cancer also has further information on the scheme which we can provide if needed.

In order to qualify for treatment, the treatment must start within a short time period of finishing chemotherapy. BRCA testing is currently funded by the public health system but wait times can vary. Women can ask their doctor for a private genetic counselling appointment if they are concerned about timing.

Most treatments for ovarian cancer are decades and decades old. Thanks to this announcement 1 in 10 wāhine with ovarian cancer will now have access to a modern medicine which is a significant milestone for the ovarian cancer community.

Olaparib is a PARP inhibitor maintenance treatment. It targets the cancer DNA repair process.It is currently funded for women who meet the criteria and have recurrent high-grade serous. In January we wrote a submission supporting it’s extension to newly diagnosed women and we are excited that Pharmac has confirmed funding for this.

Germline mutations are DNA mutations that can be detected through a blood test and are present in all of the bodies cells. Women with somatic mutations (where the mutation is present in the cancer but not the blood) also benefit from Olaparib, but unfortunately Pharmac does not currently fund access to the treatment in this situation.

This is in addition to their existing compassionate access scheme for women with recurrent high-grade serous ovarian cancer who test negative for the BRCA mutation in their blood. AstraZeneca will partially subsidise tumour testing (cost to patient $300 AUD) and if a BRCA mutation is found they will provide treatment at no cost (subject to criteria). Patients can ask their oncologist or contact us for more information.

Pharmac respond to our submission on Avastin

Almost a year ago Pharmac put out a proposal to decline 97 medications, including Avastin for advanced ovarian cancer. Cure Our Ovarian Cancer NZ made a submission strongly opposing this move. We are pleased to say that Pharmac listened to our feedback, and agreed to ‘not decline’ the application for now. They quoted the issues we raised in our submission as reasoning.

These included that Pharmac may be able to negotiate a more favourable price now the patent for Avastin has expired and there are competitors in the market, and that the clinical committee declined the application on the assumption that using an old treatment differently would achieve the same benefit. Four years later, a clinical trial of the old treatment proved this was not the case.

We are hopeful but note that the application to fund Avastin was made in 2013. We don’t think that it’s fair that kiwi women have to wait so long to access a type of treatment which is funded in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. We approximate that collectively wāhine could have had 500 additional years of life, if this treatment had been funded straight away.

Australia fund approximately $9 a week per person on pharmaceuticals. New Zealand funds just over $4. We strongly support the work of Patient Voice Aotearoa and The Medicine Gap to increase Pharmac funding to improve access.

For wāhine with ovarian cancer – the funding of Avastin would mean more time. But it would also mean more access to clinical trials. Avastin is standard of care in many parts of the world. Some clinical trials will not let people participate unless they have had it as part of their treatment. This is for ethical reasons because they want to know that people have had the standard of care, before they try a new treatment with unknown benefits and possible risks. In addition some clinical trials are combination trials looking at Avastin in combination with other treatments or comparing Avastin to a new treatment. Because New Zealand does not fund the standard of care, while other countries do – it acts as a barrier to clinical trial access. Doubly reducing wāhine treatment options.

We have written to Pharmac applauding their decision to not decline Avastin and emphasised the importance of more treatments for our leading cause of gynaecological cancer death.

Published: March 9th 2022