Pharmac proposing to widen access to funded medicines

Media release Medicines COVID-19

Pharmac has issued a consultation today on proposals to widen access to two medicines, rituximab and zoledronic acid, estimated to benefit 1,750 New Zealanders a year.

“Rituximab is a monoclonal antibody medicine, administered as an intravenous infusion,” says Chief Medical officer Dr David Hughes. “Riximyo is the current sole supply brand of rituximab and is a biosimilar rituximab product. It is currently funded for a variety of indications, including cancer, autoimmune and haematological conditions.

“We are proposing that access to rituximab be widened to include funding for people with severe, rapidly progressing pemphigus or pemphigus that does not respond to systemic corticosteroids. As it is an uncommon disease, we anticipate there will be around fifteen New Zealanders with pemphigus a year who could benefit from rituximab treatment.

Two brands of zoledronic acid (Aclasta and Zoledronic acid Mylan) are currently funded for a variety of indications including cancer and osteoporosis.

“We are proposing widening access to the funding of zoledronic acid to include two new uses – to treat symptomatic hypercalcaemia and for the prevention of bone loss after spinal cord injury. We are also proposing it be funded for an additional year of treatment for early breast cancer, offering two additional doses. Approximately 1,735 more people a year will benefit from the widened access to zoledronic acid.

The consultation has been sent to health professionals, patient advocacy groups and others who we think would be interested. It is available on the Pharmac website for anyone wanting to have their say. If approved, access would be widened to rituximab and zoledronic acid from 1 April 2022.

“Consultation is a very important step in our process,” says Dr Hughes. “It’s how we check that what we are proposing can be implemented by the health sector and that the people who will get the most benefit from the medicines will be able to access them.”

“Pharmac is committed to continuing our work to fund more medicines for more New Zealanders, delivering the best possible health outcomes.”


Biosimilar – A biosimilar medicine is a very similar version of a biological medicine (the original medicine is usually called the reference medicine).

Pemphigus – Pemphigus is a group of chronic, autoimmune skin diseases that result in blisters in mucous membranes and the skin.

Systemic corticosteroids – synthetic derivatives of the natural steroid, cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands, and have profound anti-inflammatory effects.

Hypercalcaemia – Hypercalcaemia is most often caused by overactivity in the four tiny glands in the neck (parathyroid glands) or from cancer. Extra calcium in the blood affects many bodily systems. Symptoms of hypercalcaemia range from mild to severe. They may include increased thirst and urination, stomach pain, nausea, bone pain, muscle weakness, confusion and fatigue.