Pharmac seeks feedback on widening access and transitioning to a biosimilar trastuzumab

Media release Medicines

Te Pātaka Whaioranga – Pharmac is considering awarding Principal Supply to a biosimilar brand of trastuzumab (branded as Herzuma), and widening access to include those with stomach (gastric) cancer, from 1 December 2023. Consultation on the proposal opens today.

“Pharmac has funded the biologic brand of trastuzumab (branded as Herceptin) since 2005 for the treatment of breast cancer, with approximately 900 people using the medicine last year,” says Pharmac’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr David Hughes.

“Biologics are among the most expensive medicines that Pharmac funds, with the cost of trastuzumab in the top 5 gross medicines costs in 2021 and 2022. Transitioning from Herceptin to biosimilar Herzuma would release significant funds for Pharmac to invest in other medicines for the benefit of New Zealanders, including widening access to trastuzumab to New Zealanders with stomach (gastric) cancer.  This is the Pharmac model in action – where we maximise our fixed budget, to negotiate savings and increase access to medicines.”

Herzuma has been used in New Zealand private hospitals since 2019, in Australia since 2018 and is approved by Medsafe as a safe and effective medicine.

“We expect most people who take trastuzumab would be able to change to the Herzuma brand of trastuzumab,” says Dr Hughes. “We are, however, proposing that we fund Herzuma under Principal Supply Status so there is an allowance for some people to return to Herceptin if required. Prescribers would be able to apply for ongoing funded Herceptin for these patients.”

Pharmac has worked with advocacy groups including the Breast Cancer Foundation, Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition, and Sweet Louise to ensure that the process has been informed by the views of those directly impacted by this change.

Pharmac’s consultation on trastuzumab is open for anyone to have their say.

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We have more information on biologics and biosimilars on our website. 

Trastuzumab is known as a targeted therapy, which are medicines that change how cells work and help stop cancer from growing and spreading. In 2019, Trastuzumab went off-patent, meaning that other suppliers can produce and market biosimilar trastuzumab.