Pharmac funding seven new medicines and widening access to another two

Media release Medicines

Te Pātaka Whaioranga – Pharmac has today confirmed that it will be funding seven new medicines and widening access to another two already funded medicines, with thousands of New Zealanders expected to benefit.

New medicines being funded are:

We are also widening access to:

First of two new treatments for inflammatory bowel disease approved

Pharmac has confirmed funding for vedolizumab, which is expected to benefit an estimated 500 people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the first year, increasing to up to nearly 1,400 people per annum after five years.

“We know that IBD has a significant and ongoing impact on those who have it, and on their whānau, and evidence shows that vedolizumab offers clinically significant health benefits in terms of response and remission,” says Pharmac’s Director of Operations Lisa Williams.

“Consultation recently closed on a proposal to fund another treatment for IBD, ustekinumab, and a decision will be made on that in the next month.”

First medicine for kidney disease that treats the underlying condition

Pharmac will fund tolvaptan for an estimated 370 people with a type of kidney disease called autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD).

“Current treatment for ADPKD has been limited to management of chronic kidney disease. Our clinical experts tell us that tolvaptan will, in addition to reducing kidney pain, treat the underlying disease by delaying disease progression, the need for dialysis and transplantation, and reduce the risk of early death.

Access equity benefits considered for a new formulation of schizophrenia treatment

“Pharmac has decided to fund a new three-monthly version of paliperidone depot injection for people with schizophrenia, in addition to the currently funded one-monthly version which could reduce relapses, carer burden, and the frequency of hospital admissions. We estimate that around 300 people will benefit from this decision in the first year of funding, increasing to around 1,400 people per annum after five years.

“We know that Māori are disproportionately impacted by schizophrenia, with more than 40% of this population currently receiving the one-monthly treatment. We believe that moving to a three-monthly treatment will benefit Māori populations with schizophrenia, and their whānau.  

Pharmac funding two new blood cancer treatments

Pharmac is funding two new blood cancer treatments, giving more options for New Zealanders with relapsed/refractory chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, Hodgkin lymphoma and anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

Ms Williams says, “Ibrutinib is a medicine that can reduce the likelihood of progression and improve survival for people with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Ibrutinib works differently to another funded treatment, venetoclax, so it is being funded for people who find venetoclax intolerable or for whom it is not effective. Ibrutinib is an oral pill taken daily so it’s a very accessible treatment.”

An estimated 30 people will benefit from this decision in the first year, increasing to around 100 people per annum after five years. 

“Brentuximab vedotin is a medicine that works by ‘targeting’ the changes in cancer cells that help it to survive and multiply within the body. Our clinical advisors have told us that brentuximab vedotin increases the likelihood of remission and reduces the likelihood of progression or death for people with Hodgkin or anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

“Brentuximab vedotin is not yet approved for use in New Zealand by the medicines safety regulator, Medsafe, so it will initially be funded through Pharmac's Exceptional Circumstances Framework, which will ensure that people using it can give informed consent to use of an unapproved medicine. Once it is Medsafe approved it will be listed on the Pharmaceutical Schedule.”

An estimated 20-25 people are expected to benefit from this decision each year.

Two new treatments for major burns

“People in hospital with major burns will be able to access selenium oral drops or injections and copper chloride injections. “We understand that supplementation with selenium and copper will likely result in a decrease in infections for people with major burns, which will reduce risk of infection-related mortality,” says Ms Williams.

Widened access to already funded treatments

Pharmac doesn’t just invest in new medicines, it also widens funded access to existing medicines when there are health benefits for other clinical uses.

“We are widening access to cinacalcet for people with hyperparathyroidism, which occurs when there is an excess of the hormone made by four small glands in the neck. Approximately 725 people will be eligible for cinacalcet in the first year of funding and this is expected to increase in the years following.

“We are also removing all funding restrictions from zoledronic acid, which will enable its unrestricted use,” says Ms Williams. “Pharmac currently funds zoledronic acid for a specified range of conditions including for osteoporosis and breast cancer. We received clear feedback last year on the benefits of unrestricted access to zoledronic acid.

“Following assessment and the announcement of Budget 2022, we are now in a position to widen funded access. We expect removing the eligibility restrictions will benefit up to 5,700 additional people per year after 5 years.

Investing in health

“Pharmac is committed to continuing our work to fund more treatments for more people, delivering the best possible health outcomes for New Zealanders from within our fixed budget. With the $71 million pharmaceutical budget increase in 2022 and $120 million in 2023, we are working our way through our options for investment list, looking at what agreements we can now make with suppliers, and there are more to come,” concludes Ms Williams.

The majority of these medicines will be funded from 1 December 2002, with the exception of vedolizumab, which will be available from 1 February 2023, and zoledronic acid, which will have access restrictions removed from 1 March 2023.