New Zealand's Pharmaceutical Management Agency, or PHARMAC, has given a reimbursement approval for Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) Opdivo (nivolumab) to treat melanoma, while still in a back-and-forth with Merck ($MRK) on Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for the same indication.
Skin cancer is the most common form in New Zealand, according to the Cancer Society of New Zealand, with public campaigns for reimbursed access to a therapy to treat the disease pitched in the past year and that accelerated after PHARMAC said in December 2015 it would not yet fund Keytruda.
This week however the agency announced an agreement with Bristol-Myers Squibb to pay for Opdivo in patients with advanced melanoma starting July 1. The reimbursement deal includes a confidential rebate provision, PHARMAC said on its website.
"It's just wonderful to be in a position where we've got a treatment where we're really convinced that the data shows patients are going to live better and going to live longer as a result of that treatment," PHARMAC CEO Steffan Crausaz told the Newshub website.
Merck on the first quarter earnings call said it had high hopes for Asia sales of Keytruda following a launch in Singapore for melanoma late last year. The therapy is available at a reduced price in Australia as the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme reimbursement agency questions the cost.
The initial estimate in New Zealand is for around 350 patients a year, the website said, citing a campaigner for access to melanoma therapies, Leisa Renwick.
The New Zealand agency also approved Harvoni (ledipasvir with sofosbuvir) from Gilead Sciences ($GILD) and Viekira Pak (ombitasvir/paritaprevir/ritonavir and dasabuvir) from AbbVie ($ABBV) for hepatitis C treatment among other approval for funding this year.
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