Subsidy for new treatment of ‘national cancer’ melanoma

Australians paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for advanced melanoma treatment could soon see their costs slashed.

Every year 20,000 Australians receive a melanoma diagnosis, and every six hours a patient will die from skin cancer.

But Australians with recurrent melanoma will be given new hope when the cutting-edge treatment Opdualag is added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme on February 1, making it available to patients at a government-subsidised price.

The treatment is a combination of immunotherapies designed to help the body fight cancer and in a country with some of the world’s highest melanoma rates, the new listing is expected to benefit about 940 patients each year.

Without the subsidy, these same patients could pay about $315,000 per course of treatment.

Health Minister Mark Butler says this new listing will expand options to those with skin cancer.

“(This will) add a new tool to the growing toolbox of treatments for Australia’s national cancer,” he told reporters on Sunday.

“With cheaper medicines we are supporting millions of Australians with chronic, ongoing conditions so they don’t have to choose between health care and paying the bills.”

Melanoma patient Felicity Lloyd knows how expensive treatment can be.

The Adelaide mother was diagnosed with advanced melanoma in 2017, after being cleared of cancer following surgeries in 2013, only to discover a lump in her breast four years later.

Tests revealed it had spread throughout her body.

Ms Lloyd required two sets of medication and while both were listed on the PBS, she said the subsidy required they be used in an order that did not best suit her situation.

Fortunately, her family was able to pay for one of the medications and she received compassionate access to another.

Ms Lloyd was cleared of cancer again but continues to undergo some treatment.

She is acutely aware that overcoming cancer can require multiple, costly treatments and welcomed the new addition to the PBS.

“It took multiple treatments for me to achieve no evidence of disease,” she said.

“Treatment and access to treatment is improving all the time.”

Melanoma Institute Australia co-medical director Georgina Long said preventing melanoma remained paramount.

Immunotherapy was changing the approach to treatment of patients with advanced melanoma, Professor Long said, but more needed to be done.

Since the beginning of 2023, Australians have saved more than $240 million after the government lowered the maximum cost of prescription medications listed on the PBS, the federal government says.


Kat Wong and Steven Deare
(Australian Associated Press)


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