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New Cancer Medicines Among those added to the PBS

Three new generation cancer medicines have been included in the newly approved list of drugs being added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

A new medicine that can significantly extend the life of people with deadly melanoma (skin cancer), ipilimumab, has been approved. Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek said the inclusion of ipilimumab, sold as Yervoy® on the PBS would save patients requiring the treatment more than $110,000 a year on average.

“Australia has the highest skin cancer incidence rate in the world, with one in 17 Australians at risk of contracting the disease,” Ms Plibersek said.   “While prevention is always the best option, the PBS listing of ipilimumab is a major step forward for people who have developed malignant melanoma. “It is the first in a new class of medicines for melanoma and the first effective treatment in over a decade.”

In clinical trials, more than 60 per cent of patients with very advanced melanoma who were treated with ipilimumab were still alive after one year and notably, some 10 per cent of them were still alive after five years.

A new and effective drug for treating prostate cancer, abiraterone (Zytiga®) will also be listed on the PBS. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australian men, with about 20,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

“The PBS listing of abiraterone will benefit more than 1,000 Australians each year who would otherwise have to pay around $27,000 a year to access the drug.  This medicine offers an important treatment option for patients who are not well enough to tolerate further chemotherapy,” Ms Plibersek said.

Subsidies for vinorelbine (Navelbine®) which treats advanced breast cancer will also be extended to allow the drug to be used when other therapies have failed. Provided orally, vinorelbine offers an important treatment option for patients but currently costs around $17,314 for an average of six prescriptions a year.

More than a hundred thousand Australians will also benefit from the extension of PBS subsidies for a new generation oral anticoagulant medicine, on the PBS.

Rivaroxaban – marketed as Xarelto® – will soon be subsidised as a treatment for the prevention of stroke in patients with irregular heartbeat and treatment of blood clots in the lungs and legs.

Irregular heartbeat or non-valvular atrial fibrillation is common among older people and increases the risk of severe stroke.

The extension of the PBS subsidy will cost the Australian Government more than $450 million over four years and will benefit around 120,000 patients per year. Without PBS subsidy, rivaroxaban cost around $1200 per year for the average patient.

Ms Plibsersek said two drugs used to terminate pregnancy for medical reasons would also be available through the PBS from 1 August 2013. Mifepristone (Linepharma®) and misoprostol (GyMiso200®) will be subsidised for medical terminations up to 49 days of gestation.

“While termination of pregnancy is always difficult, the listing of these drugs provides women and their doctors with greater choice at an affordable price,” Ms Plibersek said.

A total of 17 new and amended PBS listings will come into effect between 1 August and 1 October this year. Patients will only have to pay $5.90 or $36.10 per month to be treated with these medicines.

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Alana Lowes

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