Leukaemia drug added to PBS

Each year 320 people in Tasmania are diagnosed with a blood cancer but for some their quality of life might soon be drastically improved. 

A leukaemia drug that normally costs more than $180,000 per round of treatment will become easily affordable under a $460 million federal government subsidy.

Leukaemia Foundation chief executive Bill Petch said the drug Ibrutinib, known as Imbruvica, is used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

“CLL is the most regularly diagnosed form of leukaemia and roughly 1500 patients a year are diagnosed,” he said. 

“For those patients that don’t respond to normal or traditional therapies, the announcement of Imbruvica being available on the PBS, is going to be an enormous benefit.”

Patients are not required to take the drug in hospital, instead it can be taken orally. 

“It’s an enormous benefit to people, especially people in regional areas like Tasmania because they can take it in their own home,” Mr Petch said.

“That reduces the need for patients to travel significant distance and the cost of travelling.”

Without coverage under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme the drug costs about $187,000 but under the scheme it would be about $6 for pensioners and $38 for regular patients, Mr Petch said.

CLL tends to be diagnosed most commonly in people over the age of 60 but it can affect people of any age.

“The older you get the harder these things are to treat and the issue with CLL in particular is that it affects your white blood cells so your ability to fight infection is compromised and that gets even worse when you are older,” Mr Petch said.

“[This drug] effects the protein which stimulate the leukaemia cells.”

As the drug becomes more readily available the Leukaemia Foundation will launch new programs to assist patients.

Mr Petch said an initiative called ‘CLL My Way’ was being developed to support patients through the journey of managing their disease at home.

While it is a major step forward the foundation chief said he had “a list as long as your arm” of drugs he would like to see subsidised.

“These things take time, obviously they have to go though vigorous clinical trials and demonstrate cost effectiveness,” Mr Petch said.

“One of the issues over the next few years will be the fact that technology is speeding up but we also have to get [medications] fast-tracked to be available for patients.