PHARMAC’s decision to postpone the funding of KEYTRUDA for lung cancer patients has a knock on effect for a number of other cancer types such as bowel cancer.

PHARMAC's decision comes after citing increases in freight costs and supply chain uncertainty during the COVID-19 era.

Global research emerged last week that proved KEYTRUDA beat standard chemotherapy treatment in a head to head trial delaying cancer progression in bowel cancer patients who had the specific gene mutations MSI/H – dMMr.

A small number of these patients are Lynch Syndrome Carriers which is the hereditary faulty gene that puts these patients at up to 50% higher risk of getting bowel cancer in their lifetime.

This equates to almost 100 bowel cancer patients a year that would live longer if they received the unfunded immunotherapy drug KEYTRUDA. Add these patient numbers to those from other cancers types such as breast, ovarian, endometrial, kidney and prostate cancer patients that also have lynch syndrome, the figures will be much higher.

The decision to pause funding has a detrimental effect on a number of cancer patients across NZ , slowing down the rate at which other sufferers of different cancer types will have access to this lifesaving drug.

Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust CEO, Georgina Mason, says that while we are likely to see worldwide fiscal restraint, which may impact medicines funding because of COVID-19, Merck Sharp and Dohme NZ who supply KEYTRUDA assure her of their confidence in their supply chain moving forward.

"They already supply KEYTRUDA to PHARMAC for melanoma patients and have said that while freight costs have definitely increased, it’s a cost that Merck absorb and do not pass on to PHARMAC."

"So that begs the question, is there a wider issue around funding for PHARMAC? We should be asking why the PHARMAC budget does not have the provision to flex in these extraordinary circumstances while we deal with the COVID crisis," Miss Mason added.