Significant step forward for treating people with head and neck cancer

Media release Medicines

Funding cetuximab for patients with head and neck cancer will be a significant advance for treating this type of cancer in New Zealand, says PHARMAC Director of Operations Sarah Fitt.

Cetuximab (Erbitux) will be available from 1 February 2018 as an additional treatment option for people with locally advanced, non-metastatic head and neck cancer who are unable to use the current standard chemotherapy treatment, cisplatin.

Cetuximab is an infusion given in tandem with radiation therapy. PHARMAC expects that 40-50 people will be eligible for treatment every year.

Sarah Fitt says cetuximab will make a real difference to eligible patients with head and neck cancer, potentially increasing their length of life.

“It’s great to be able to make cetuximab available to help a group of patients who were unable to use the standard chemotherapy treatment for this type of cancer,” says Ms Fitt.

“Up to 30% of patients with this type of cancer are unable to use cisplatin, because they can’t tolerate it or for other clinical reasons, and have had limited options for further treatment. The funding of cetuximab in combination with radiotherapy will make a big difference for patients and their families.

“Cetuximab has been proven to make a real difference to people’s lives, with clinical trial evidence showing that it can help people live up to 20 months longer, making this a great use of the available funding for new medicines.”

More information is available in the notification on the PHARMAC website.