Pharmac defends Herceptin decision

Pharmac has presented detailed evidence to support its claim it did everything possible to evaluate all options on Herceptin.

The High Court at Wellington is hearing a judicial review application from eight breast cancer patients who want the Government's drug-buying agency's decisions on the breast cancer drug overturned.

The Herceptin Heroines want the court to overturn Pharmac's decision to fund nine weeks of treatment rather than 12 months with Herceptin for women with aggressive early breast cancer.

The women missed out on state funding of the drug after their own breast surgery, and some of them paid up to $120,000 each for private supplies.

Pharmac lawyer Mike Colson said the agency managed about $593 million on behalf of district health boards for drugs on which decisions had previously been made, and had only about $7m for new spending.

He outlined what was discussed at Pharmac meetings in the two-year lead-up to the funding decision in April last year.

Swiss manufacturer Roche applied in December 2005 for funding of 12-month Herceptin treatments, and this was considered at a February 2006 meeting of its pharmacology and therapeutics advisory committee (PTAC) and an April meeting of a cancer treatment subcommittee known as CaTSOP.

They wanted more data on clinical trials, and the cancer group gave funding the drug a low to medium priority for early breast cancer. PTAC was still seeking more information in May 2006, and in June, Pharmac staff recommended DHBs not fund the drug at that time.

In August, the cancer committee was asked to look at nine-week treatments and in October gave priority to funding these, if funding for a 12-month regimen was not available. The hearing continues today.

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