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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Patient group welcomes positive PBAC recommendations for breast cancer medicines

Health Industry Hub | April 24, 2023 |

Pharma News: Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) has called two breast cancer drugs recommended for subsidy on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) a significant step forward for people with treatable but not curable metastatic breast cancer.

The two breast cancer drugs recommended on Friday for listing on the PBS by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) are MSD’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) and AstraZeneca’s Enhertu (trastuzumab deruxtecan). These two new drugs are for different sub-types of breast cancer.

Keytruda has shown to improve median overall survival (OS) for people with metastatic triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) whose tumours express higher levels of the PD-L1 protein by more than six months. TNBC is typically more aggressive, has fewer treatment options, and disproportionately affects younger women. Around 15% of breast cancers are triple negative.

Enhertu has demonstrated improvement in median progression-free survival (PFS) for people with human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) positive metastatic breast cancer by more than 10 months. Around 15% to 20% of breast cancers are HER2-positive.

BCNA’s Director Policy, Advocacy and Support Services, Vicki Durston, said this is significant news as it will increase equity of access to these life-prolonging treatments for metastatic breast cancer, that have been previously out of reach for many.

“People living with metastatic breast cancer often face significant out of pocket costs for these drugs prior to them being subsided – and many cannot afford them at all,” Ms Durston said.

“For some time, cancer control agencies have been calling for new treatment options to treat triple negative breast cancer, which is often aggressive. Access to Keytruda represents an important new treatment option. Enhertu is a new emerging type of drug that is innovative and is specifically tailored for those with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer.

“What this decision means is that regardless of how much you earn or where you live you will have access to these innovative new drugs that are tailored for different breast cancer sub-types and can extend lives.”

A spokesperson from AstraZeneca told Health Industry Hub “We believe that through science, access to medicines can make a difference to the health of people, society and the planet. While the PBAC continues to review applications under the current guidelines, we believe the current HTA review is critical to continue to drive reform in the system to ensure optimal access for Australians to receive new medicines on the PBS.  

“We are pleased to receive a recommendation for reimbursed access to Enhertu for eligible patients with metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer. We will continue to work with the Department to finalise the next steps to enable a PBS listing.”

Ms Durston said it is imperative people with metastatic breast cancer, a growing group with significant unmet needs, have access to new and innovative therapies. BCNA has long been calling for improvements to the collection and reporting of metastatic data as well as advocating for improved services to ensure this group is not invisible.

“We know that these drugs offer hope to those living with metastatic breast cancer,” Ms Durston said.

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