Immunotherapy treatment - Cost Share Programme

What is immunotherapy?

Your immune system is your bodies natural defence which seek out and destroys anything that is not recognised as part of itself, including all kinds of germs and cancer cells, before they have a chance to cause disease.


Your immune system manages to destroy most rogue cells but some of them get by your defences. If you already have cancer, your immune system will still be working hard to keep your disease in check, but it probably can't do the job on its own.


What is a cost share programme?

There are two immunotherapy treatments used in New Zealand to treat bowel cancer and help prolong patient life. Both Keytruda and Avastin are unfunded drugs and carry a hefty price tag and need to be administered in a private oncology centre. 

Some pharmaceutical companies have "Cost Share Programmes" available through private oncology centres to help make these medicines more affordable.


Cost Share Programmes may offer free treatment doses or a capped payment for the duration of treatment. Always involve your Doctor/oncologist to work out which immunotherapy treatment could be right for you as Keytruda works better in some patients and Avastin in others.

Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust helps patients on to both the Keytruda and Avastin Cost Share Programme with the pharmaceutical companies Merck Sharp & Dohme NZ (MSD NZ) and Roche NZ.



Keytruda works particular well with patients who have the hereditary gene Lynch Syndrome.  

Each patient is required to fundraise about $60,000 (NZD) to pay for the first 9 rounds of injections which are administered 3 weeks apart and MSD then take over the payments for as long as the patient needs it. Keytruda cost share treatment used to be capped for up to two years, where it was deemed the drug should have worked sufficiently to reduce tumours and the patient remains stable or presents with no evidence of disease. In December 2019 the rules were revised by Merck Sharp and Dohme NZ to allow the patient access to the treatment for as long as they require it as part of the cost share programme.

Because Keytruda is unfunded in New Zealand, The Ministry of Health has directed that public hospitals are not to administer this drug and it can only be done so in private hospital setting. This directive adds another $27,000 on top of the $60,000 which pays for the administration, scans, oncologist fees and gst for the private hospital. 

Once MSD take over payments, expect to continue to pay $1,300 every 3 weeks to continue to administer the drug in the private hospital for the remaining two years. Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust has tried to get patients back in to the public system so administration of these drugs can be free. In 2018 the Minister of Health, the Hon. Dr David Clark, denied our request.

We have come up with ways to fundraise to help cancer patients with these costs in New Zealand.

Read our article here

Keytruda Cost Share Programme - Patient Stories

Whitinga Harris - Keytruda.jpg


Avastin cost share programme works in the same way as the keytruda programme. An amount of money is needed to be raised privately and drug infusions are carried out in private oncology centres.

Treatments such as Keytruda and Avastin have been designed to give the immune system the upper hand against cancer. Used either on its own or combined with chemotherapy or radiation. It's an additional, less toxic method of controlling the disease or reducing side effects from other treatments. In the years to come, as scientists learn more about the immune system, immunotherapy promises to become even more common and more effective.

Avastin Cost Share Programme - Patient Stories

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