A far north Queensland woman is calling for a cancer drug she currently gets through monthly trips to Hong Kong to be included on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Lisa Laird, a long-term cancer patient, will continue her monthly pilgrimage to get life-changing drugs in Hong Kong, after authorities decided to permit their use in Australia without offering a public subsidy.
Ms Laird has been taking the drug Palbociclib for more than a year to keep her metastatic breast cancer at bay.
The daily pill delays the need for more aggressive treatment of the incurable disease, including chemotherapy and radiation.
She said she had experienced no serious side effects beyond drowsiness and minor ulcers and the drug allows her to “live as normal a life as possible”.
“You can’t see any activity [in PET scans] … the lesions have shrunk, the tumours are just not visible,” she said.
But Ms Laird also sees herself as fortunate, as it was only because of her husband’s international health insurance that she could affordably get the drug.
She needs to spend one week of each month in Hong Kong to collect the pills and undergo medical tests.
Australian doctors will soon be permitted to prescribe Palbociclib, but an application to subsidise it under the PBS was rejected, meaning treatment will cost thousands of dollars a month.
It means Ms Laird’s monthly trips from her Mission Beach home in far north Queensland to Hong Kong are unlikely to stop anytime soon.
Chemotherapy ‘most excruciating pain’
Ms Laird said the minor side effects of Palbociclib were nothing compared to the chemotherapy she went through after her first diagnosis.
“The chemo treatment was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever been in. I don’t wish it upon anybody,” Ms Laird said.
Her husband Guy Laird said he struggled to accept the news that his wife now had an incurable disease.
“Even through the worst and darkest days of chemotherapy she was still positive and still has a fantastic outlook on life, and I really don’t want to lose her,” he said.
“We fight every day and fight as hard as we can to make sure that she’s here for the next 20 years … hopefully I die before she does.”
Drug could help two-thirds of metastatic breast cancer patients
University of Sydney Professor Fran Boyle said around two-thirds of patients had a breast cancer driven by hormones and were typically treated with hormone-blocking drugs.
“The problem with cancer cells is they’re pretty smart, they get resistant sometimes to hormone-blocking drugs,” Professor Boyle said.
“This drug actually helps to restore the sensitivity, it switches off the resistance.
“There are some people who will have side effects … and there will be some people for whom it works for a very long time, potentially even up to years.”
Palbociclib is just one drug in a new family of pills that work in a similar way and there are currently three varieties at various stages of development.
Professor Boyle strongly believes at least one of the three drugs should be made available on the PBS.
‘It’s about living’: Calls for PBS listing
Danielle Spence from the Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) said other women deserved the same opportunity as Ms Laird.
“It’s about living for these people — they know they have an incurable disease, but we want to help them to live well as long as they can,” Ms Spence said.
Lisa and Guy Laird in their Mission Beach home in north Queensland on May 8, 2017.
She said some women were cashing in their superannuation or life insurance to import the drug from overseas.
“These women are women that have paid their taxes … and they’ve been working all of their lives to contribute to Australian society, and now it’s our turn to be able to support them,” Ms Spence said.
Under Australian law, the health minister is not allowed to list a drug on the PBS unless it has been approved by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).
A spokeswoman for the health department said the clinical and economic information provided in the application from drug manufacturer Pfizer was unclear.
“The sponsor has the opportunity to make a resubmission to the PBAC at any time addressing the issue the PBAC has identified,” the spokeswoman said.
Source: ABC Online 9 May 2017