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October 9, 2017 – Ibrutnib (Imbruvica) has been added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, making it available at an average of $38.80 per script for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) living in Australia. This makes access easier for about 920 patient every year. The drug is more effective than treatments currently available on the PBS, but until experts agreed to a government subsidy, had come at a cost of almost $190,000 on average per course of treatment.
Ibrutinib is used to treat patients with CLL, the most common form of leukaemia affecting about 1500 people every year, or small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL) who don’t respond to first-line chemotherapy.
Two years after being approved for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, ibrutinib will be listed on the PBS from December.
Stephen Mulligan, a haematologist at Royal North Shore Hospital involved in the pharmaceutical trials of ibrutinib, said it “really is a breakthrough medication”.
“Patients who did not respond (to frontline treatments) had really a very poor prognosis with the treatments we had available until this new drug, particularly the ones that got their leukaemia back within two or three years,” Professor Mulligan said. “The drug is literally lifesaving in those group of patients.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the drug targeted cancers that affect white blood cells, “an important part of the immune system and (which) help protect our bodies against infection and disease”.
Clinical trials for the drug were published two years ago, and it was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration one year later.
Janssen, the company marketing the drug, said 900 patients in Australia and New Zealand had been treated with ibrutinib since the start of a free patient access program since November 2014.