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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Cheaper medicines for advanced melanoma and MS

Australians with advanced melanoma and relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) now have access to new and updated medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

“The Australian Government understands that many Australians are doing it tough, which is why we are committed to making medicines cheaper and more affordable for all Australians,” said Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler.

“These listings will have a profound impact on people’s lives – and the lives of the people around them.

“Alongside cheaper prescriptions, 60-day scripts and encouraging more doctors to bulk bill, we are making health care more affordable and helping to ease the cost of living burden for everyday Australians,” said the Minister.

Australia has the highest melanoma rates in the world with one person dying from melanoma every six hours.

The combination medicine nivolumab with relatlimab (Opdualag®) will list to treat patients with advanced stage melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body and cannot be removed by surgery, the Department of Health has announced.

It says around 940 patients each year are expected to benefit from this listing. Without the PBS subsidy, they could pay around $315,000 per course of treatment.

Tebentafusp (Kimmtrak®) will list for the first time to treat a certain type of advanced melanoma of the middle layer of the eye (uvea) that has spread to other parts of the body or cannot be removed by surgery.

Uveal melanoma is a rare cancer, with around 150 Australians diagnosed each year.

Around 35 patients are expected to benefit from this listing each year. Without the PBS subsidy, they could pay around $790,000 per course of treatment.

Natalizumab (Tysabri®) is currently available through the PBS for patients with relapsing-remitting MS. From 1 February, these patients will now have access to a new subcutaneous form of Tysabri®, which means it can be given as an injection under the skin. This will reduce administration time and expand the settings for treatment. 

About 85% of people with MS are diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS, making it the most common form of MS. 

MS affects the brain and spinal cord and is often diagnosed in young adults between 20 to 40 years old. In MS, the body’s immune system reacts against its own myelin, which protects and insulates nerve fibres. In relapsing-remitting MS, people have attacks called relapses, which can cause blurred vision, weakness in the legs or arms, or loss of control of bowel or bladder function. 

Without PBS subsidy, patients may pay around $16,400 per year of treatment with Tysabri®. 

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