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Pharmac considers Keytruda again

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 28/06/2016

Despite already funding a rival drug, Pharmac says it's again considering covering advanced melanoma medicine Keytruda.

The government drug-buying on Tuesday announced it had reached a provisional deal with Keytruda manufacturer MSD and is now consulting on whether to give it funding.

The decision comes only weeks after Pharmac announced it would use its expanded budget to fund a rival of Keytruda, Opdivo, from July 1.

The government had been under pressure to fund an advanced melanoma treatment and a petition seeking funding for Keytruda drew 54,000 signatures.

Pharmac in March said alternative Opdivo showed more certain survival data.

Under the new proposal, both would be funded from September 1.

"We are not aware of any evidence to support the use of pembrolizumab [Keytruda] after nivolumab [Opdivo] treatment failure, or vice versa, but the two agents may have different side effect profiles; therefore, they may be useful alternatives to each other in patients who experience early treatment-limiting toxicity," Pharmac said.

In the meantime, the manufacturer will also cover the drug for patients, as part of a bridging programme.

"It means melanoma patients using Keytruda now, can maintain their current treatment regime rather than go through the inconvenience and potential stress of switching medicines," MSD New Zealand director Paul Smith said.

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