Greg Hunt

Federal Member for Flinders | Minister for Health | Minister for Sport

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Doorstop - Royal North Shore Hospital Sydney

Monday, 31 July 2017

E&OE…

Topics: Listing of $1.1 billion cancer drug Opdivo

GREG HUNT:
I want to thank everybody for joining us today at the extraordinary Royal North Shore Hospital, home to over 6,000 staff across the campus.

It’s an amazing facility and I want to acknowledge Elizabeth and her team and to say that today is a historic day.

I’m joined by Professor Nick Pavlakis, one of Australia’s leading oncologists, Brent Pfeiffenberger, from Bristol-Myers. Of course Kidney Australia, the Lung Foundation are represented respectively by the wonderful people we have here today.

My great friend and colleague, Trent Zimmerman, and above all else, our star patients, Sue and Elaine, who really represent what today is about, and that is about hope and the gift of life.

We know that lung cancer and kidney cancer are a terrible burden for so many Australians. There are 12,000 Australians a year, who face the challenge of being diagnosed with lung cancer.

3,500 Australians a year who face the challenge of being diagnosed with kidney cancer. This is an extraordinary burden and we know as well, that in the case of lung cancer, the five year survival rate is as low as 15 per cent. This costs 9,000 lives a year.

So I am delighted to announce that as of the first of August, the Australian Government will list Opdivo, one of the breakthrough immunotherapy treatments on the PSB.

This is a $1.1 billion gift of life. It’s a $1.1 billion gift of hope, which is exactly what should be happening as our brilliant medical researchers and our oncologists do the work which gives people the opportunity to recover.

We see stories such as Sue and Elaine and so many others, who are able to look forward when otherwise there was no light at the end of the tunnel. And Opdivo is one of these breakthrough drugs.

Immunotherapy is a huge part of what’s occurring in cancer and oncology treatment.

What it does is it turns off one of the proteins that inhibits the ability to kill off the cancerous cells. It allows for, in many cases, a dramatic turnaround, lives to be saved, lives to be improved and lives to be extended. And it’s a real honour to be part of this process.

The heroes though, are our oncologists and our medical researchers and our patients. So I’m thrilled that as a Government, we’ve been able to bring forward the work of our researchers and our oncologists.

That our patients, such as Sue and Elaine, and so many others, will have the opportunity of life.

Normally these drugs would cost $130,000 a year, just simply beyond the reach of virtually every Australian. 4,500 Australians will benefit each year and their lives will be changed.

I’m delighted to introduce Brent from BMS, to tell us a little bit about the drug and Professor Nick Pavlakis, to talk about his work.

BRENT PFEIFFENBERGER:
Thank you Minister Hunt. So most importantly, I think the availability of reimbursement of Opdivo is great news for these patients that are dealing with advanced kidney and lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in Australia. Kidney cancer is one of the top 10 most commonly diagnosed cancers.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t get the chance to thank all the patients and clinicians who’ve been involved in our clinical trials or support our efforts for reimbursement of Opdivo.

Without them, none of this would’ve been possible. I’d like to commend the Government, including Minister Hunt, for their strong engagement, for their partnership and for their quick decision-making around the importance of funding Opdivo for these patients.

And finally I’d like to comment on this emerging class of new treatments, immuno-oncology medicines. They use the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

And with the addition of advanced lung and advanced kidney cancers, we’ve now been able to expand Opdivo to three distinct cancer types, which is lung, kidney and melanoma.

Opdivo is truly changing the way in which we treat cancer here in Australia. And at Bristol-Myers, we have a company at the forefront of delivering innovative immuno-oncology medicines.

We’re very proud to have partnered with a phenomenal group of patients, patient organisations, medical professionals and Government, to make sure this medicine was more accessible for the people who need it the most; and that’s our patients suffering from serious disease. Thank you.

NICK PAVLAKIS:
As a researcher, it’s a privilege to be able to partake in clinical trials that have evaluated the success of these therapies. And it’s great to be able to see those successes now coming into the clinic, where as a medical oncologist, I now have the opportunity to offer them in real time to my patients.

And we offer them hope, in situations where otherwise they see no hope ahead. And one of the advantages of this particular type of therapy, is it’s so much better tolerated than chemotherapy.

And so the quality of life for patients, not only is it lengthened, but the quality of life is substantially improved. So it’s great to be able to see the research come to fruition, and then also be able to, at the other end, access it in the clinic in real time to offer it to patients.

GREG HUNT:
Heather from the Lung Foundation, do you want say anything?

HEATHER ALLAN:
I’m here representing the thousands of patients living with lung cancer right now. And over the last 25 years, we haven’t seen any significant move in the survival rate for lung cancer.

So today’s announcement really offers our patients some hope that that survival rate will chance. And so I congratulate Minister Hunt on that and I know I can speak for our patients to say thank you.

GREG HUNT:
And Lisa from Kidney Australia.

LISA MURPHY:
Hi, Dr Lisa Murphy, acting CEO of Kidney Health. On behalf of the Kidney cancer community, just a huge thank you to the Government and Minister Hunt for bringing Opdivo onto the PSB, it’s going to make a huge difference.

I speak to patients on a regular basis about, where do we go now, we’ve run out of options, so this is fantastic. So thank you very much.

GREG HUNT:
Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST:
Would somebody be able to just explain in detail how this drug specifically works in targeting cancer and why it’s different to other drugs.

GREG HUNT:
Sure. I think either Nick or Brent.

NICK PAVLAKIS:
So this drug is one of the new class of agents, it’s immunotherapy. And this particular one works by attacking a protein which has helped cloak the cancer cells from immune attack.

So by removing that cloak, the immune cells that have always been there, now suddenly come along and see the cancer again as something foreign, and start to attack it. And that’s fundamentally the simple way it works.

JOURNALIST:
This drug obviously incredibly expensive without the PBS. So was it obviously quite difficult for you to have to know that a drug like this is available that previous to now, people couldn’t afford it?

NICK PAVLAKIS:
So I’ve had the opportunity of using this drug on clinical trials, which gives me a limited exposure and an opportunity to see what the drug is like.

Very privileged for a while to also have access to the drug on a compassionate access program through BMS. But those opportunities were limited.

Now the PBS approval of the dru, and thank you again, Minister, for this, gives equitable access across the board to all patients suitable for the drug.

JOURNALIST:
And it costs $138,000 a year without it.

GREG HUNT:
So this drug which would otherwise have cost over $130,000 a year. Now it will be available to every Australian who needs it for $6.30, or $38.80. So that’s really about modern medicine being available to everybody.

JOURNALIST:
That’s a huge difference for people.

GREG HUNT:
That’s what the Government does. It’s about making sure, firstly, that drugs are safe, secondly, that they work, which has been the clinical trial work that BMS and the medical community have carried out.

And once that’s occurred, then it’s listed. And we obviously have to find the space in the budget to list a billion dollar drug, but we’ve been able to do that through the agreement with Medicines Australia.

And then it’s available to patients for $38.80, or $6.30, if, like most patients, they’re concessional cardholders.

JOURNALIST:
I know we don’t like to use the term miracle drugs, but in the class of drugs that we’re seeing at the moment, how big of a breakthrough is this drug, compared to other drugs that we’ve seen?

GREG HUNT:
Well this is one of the biggest drug breakthroughs in Australian history with regards to the ability to make it available to patients.

The fact that it is one of the largest listings is an indication of the way in which it’s been valued by the Commonwealth.

There are not many drugs that are listed with over $1 billion of impact. Only a couple of days ago I was very fortunate to announce treatment for hep C, which would lead to a 90 per cent cure rate, so not just treatment, but cure rate.

So incredible things are happening to save lives and that’s all due to the work of our pharmaceutical companies and our brilliant medical researchers, they along with the patients are the real heroes of the show.

JOURNALIST:
Just for the two women in the back. Just in terms of you guys with your patients, I mean how many people do you think that this drug will now help?

HEATHER ALLAN:
There are 9,000 people diagnosed with lung cancer every year, and 4,500 of those patients will benefit from the listing of Opdivo.

JOURNALIST:
And just, sorry if I could ask, the clinical results that you saw from the trials; what was the improvement and is there a cure rate? Are there any statistics you can use that …

NICK PAVLAKIS:
So the clinical trials were conducted in patients who have advanced lung cancer, I’ll speak to the lung cancer story, and who had previously had chemotherapy.

And for these people it’s a matter of time that they’ll survive. And a small group of these patients will have substantially long survival. But the trials demonstrated improved survival across the board, with much less side-effects and better quality of life.

JOURNALIST:
Survival by how much? Like is it a number of years that we’re extending, or it …

NICK PAVLAKIS:
No. So in this population of people, normally survival is less than a year, where we’ve had- previously had chemotherapy.

But there is a group within that who will keep surviving well beyond a year. But those within that year, their life is extended by months and with much better quality of life.

GREG HUNT:
And obviously the most famous recipient in Australia, apart from Sue and Elaine, is Jarryd Roughead, and he’s made a very, very clear and public difference where you have somebody who’s able to play sport at the elite level after the treatment.

JOURNALIST:
It’s a bit of a proud moment for you as the Health Minister. You don’t often get to announce good news as the Government.

GREG HUNT:
Look it’s a real privilege to be able to help guide this through the process and the approvals and the funding.

And what makes me happy is to see Sue and Elaine and people like that around the country. When they have an opportunity to have a shot at life, that’s what it’s about.

Alright, thank you very much

(ENDS)

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