Cancer survival rates ‘clear sign’ medication access works

Australia’s world-leading cancer survival rates are a ‘clear sign’ the systems which provide patients with access to affordable medicine are working, the federal government says.

A 2015 report from a Senate inquiry into the availability of new, innovative and specialist cancer drugs found many patients face hardship when trying to access new medicines, and that more could be done to assist them.

The  report made three recommendations– including calling for a comprehensive review of the systems for registration and subsidisation of cancer medicines.

In a response this month, the government said it “supports the intent” of this recommendation, and a second one calling for a review of data collection for cancer medicines.

But it said various reforms already address these issues, such as two new TGA ‘expedited pathways’ designed to speed up access to life-saving medicines and reforms to the Orphan Drug Program which incentivise sponsors to bring medicines for rare diseases to market.

Cancer drugs by the numbers

  • 110 cancer drugs on the PBS
  • 68% chance of survival for 5 years
  • $1.9 billion PBS spend on cancer medicines in 2015-16
  • $91 billion global cancer medicine market

PBS applications take on average 17 weeks to assess, this is “relatively fast in comparison to other developed countries”.

There are already a “variety of activities” that provide it with data on cancer and its treatment, including the STaR initiative and state-based cancer registers.

“Australia’s achievement of world leading cancer survival rates is a clear sign that the current system is working”.

The government rejected a third recommendation to look at the feasibility of creating a national cancer drug register.

This would be too expensive and would divert money from other areas of cancer control like screening, it said.

“The Government notes the value of expertise that cancer Australia and the AIHW can contribute in any future work on a national register for cancer medicines.

Paul Grogan, head of public policy at Cancer Council Australia, said the single biggest issue the government faced was the exorbitantly high cost of cancer medicines.

“Governments all around the world are grappling with this,” he said.

“As a non-government organisation we are worried about an inequity for patients and also the risk that in trying to fund these increasingly important drugs, there will be less for other (cancer control initiatives) like early detection, screening and research.

“The only way we can see it changing is if countries all around the world get together to put pressure on pharmaceutical companies to change the way they price their medicines.”

Read the report here

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