Australians (97%) overwhelmingly believe medicines that treat curable cancers should be subsidised in Australia through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
“This means we need a modern regulatory and reimbursement system that has the potential to treat the patients of today and tomorrow,” says Australian oncologist and co-chair of the Cancer Drugs Alliance (CDA) Professor John Zalcberg.
In patients with terminal cancer, 95% also believe medicines that ease the symptoms should also be subsidised through the PBS, while 3 out of 4 feel drugs that may extend the life of people with terminal cancer should also be subsidised.
“When I started my career specialising in bowel cancer, I would see patients live an average of 6-9 months on the cancer therapies we had available then,” says Zalcberg.
The CDA believes action is now urgently required.
“Now years later with newer therapies, in some cases, patients with advanced bowel cancer are actually cured and when cure isn’t possible, patients are more likely to have an average survival of over 3-4 years rather than the dismal figures of the past.”
In addition, the poll also found that around 60% of Australians say that subsidising the cost of more medicines for people who need them is a higher priority than putting money into research efforts like the Medical Research Future Fund.
“The findings show the Australian public are very supportive of the need to invest in medical research, but also shows us they want to see access to medicines as a priority.”
Cancer represents an extremely complex challenge for the Australian healthcare system.
“Patients are either being denied potentially life-saving drugs that are available in other countries or are experiencing considerable delays – the average time from TGA approval to PBS listing is now 31 months, before they can access new or innovative medicines.”
The findings come as the CDA announces its white paper: “Improving access to cancer medicines” that sets out both short and long-term solutions to improving the delivery of timely and affordable access to medicines.
“The CDA supports the Australian Government’s desire to prioritise investments in medical research as a means to delivering a ‘cure for cancer’. However, ensuring the rapid translation of research findings into routine patient care is also critical to improving cancer experiences and outcomes in Australia. What is the point of finding a cure for cancer, if we can’t deliver these cures to those who need them,” Zalcberg explained.
The CDA acknowledges modernisation of the PBS requires time and recommends that an Interim Access Scheme be created to provide patients with access to the medicines that they urgently need between TGA registration and PBS reimbursement.
“Globally, there are more than 900 medicines in development. Without a modern, ‘fit-for-purpose’ system, timely and affordable access to cancer medicines is likely to become considerably worse in the coming years,” Zalcberg said.
“We implore the Government to consider the recommendations made in the Cancer Drugs Alliance white paper and work with doctors, patients, and the wider cancer community to develop the best solutions – both in the short-term and the long-term, to reform the PBS.”
Close to 124,000 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer this year, with an estimated 1,600 dying from cancer over the next ten days. The CDA is a unique, multi-stakeholder, not-for-profit representing clinicians, patients, and industry.