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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Senator Ruston blasts government for delaying funding of childhood cancer therapy

Health Industry Hub | July 5, 2024 |

Pharma News: The Australian and New Zealand Children’s Haematology and Oncology Group (ANZCHOG), Australian paediatric oncologists in collaboration with Neuroblastoma Australia have urgently appealed to the federal government for interim funding to make DFMO (eflornithine) accessible to children diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma.

This initiative comes in response to the critical need for effective treatment options for approximately 50 children annually, half of whom are classified as high-risk for this aggressive form of childhood cancer, which sadly claims a disproportionate number of young lives.

High-risk neuroblastoma poses a daunting challenge with survival rates as low as 10 – 20%, particularly among those facing relapses. The current dilemma for Australian families lies in the lengthy process of DFMO’s local registration and funding, expected to span at least a year.

This predicament forces families to choose between foregoing DFMO in treatment plans or embarking on costly fundraising efforts to seek treatment overseas, where the estimated cost ranges between $500,000 and $700,000 per child – figures well beyond the means of most families and health services.

Senator Anne Rustin, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care, has voiced significant concern over the government’s handling of the issue, calling for transparency and the production of “all relevant documents and communications between the Minister for Health and Aged Care and the Prime Minister regarding the decision not to fund treatment for children with high risk neuroblastoma”.

In response, Senator Anthony Chisholm emphasised the government’s commitment to expediting the process, collaborating closely with DFMO’s supplier and stakeholders like Neuroblastoma Australia to explore avenues for interim funding. He highlighted ongoing efforts to prioritise children’s access to safe treatments within Australia, noting that DFMO’s registration application with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is undergoing expedited review.

However, Senator Rustin criticised the government by noting that “…the Minister for Health has not even met the CEO of Neuroblastoma Australia.”

Analysis of international clinical trial data has shown that adding DFMO to treatment for high-risk neuroblastoma significantly reduced the chance of relapse, in some instances by 50%, and improved survival for high-risk neuroblastoma over the first few years after treatment completion.

Estimated costs include $5 million in interim funding in year one and a further $10 million in year two, dependent on when, and if DFMO is registered in Australia.

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