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Transcript of interview with Alan Jones: Radio 2GB, Sydney: 21 June 2011: Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme listings; Erbitux

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ALAN JONES: A week ago, on Wednesday, I spoke to the Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon about this very critical issue of having drugs which have been deemed cost-effective by the government's own expert advisory

group, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Nicola Roxon has rung through, because she's about to make an announcement which contains, I think, some very important news for patients - this dreadful issue of cancer which just afflicts everybody.

Nicola Roxon, good morning.

NICOLA ROXON: Good morning.

ALAN JONES: Thank you very much for your time and thank you for ringing in. So...

NICOLA ROXON: Well, that's okay Alan. I was very conscious when I said last week, particularly when you're asking me about bowel cancer drugs...


NICOLA ROXON: ...that there was some things happening internally in our Cabinet processes and I said I was pushing for it to be dealt with quickly. And I am announcing today that Cabinet, last night, did sign off the final step in the process and we are listing 14 new drugs, including Erbitux which is...


NICOLA ROXON: ...for the treatment of late stage bowel cancer, and I know that will be a big relief to many...

ALAN JONES: A big relief.

NICOLA ROXON: ...many sufferers across the country.

ALAN JONES: Absolutely. Just explain to our listeners what you mean when you say that the drug manufacturer has offered to pay for the genetic test?

NICOLA ROXON: Well one of the reasons, as I think I was trying to explain last week on your show, is that this is a drug that only works for sufferers of bowel cancer who have a particular genetic make-up, which means that you need to do the test to see if you are one of those people, before you would use the drug; otherwise it would just be money that was wasted and would not affect your treatment.

There's a separate process to see whether the government should pay for that test, but it was only - the request for that was only made much later, and it was delaying the listing of both. So the manufacturer...

ALAN JONES: So the manufacturer will pay for that.

NICOLA ROXON: ...has said we will pay for the test, in the interim, while that other work is underway, and that will allow patients to be able to have the PBS funded drug and the test funded by the company. So we're very pleased they've made that offer.

ALAN JONES: Okay, now breast cancer, I see that you have agreed to a 60 milligramme vial size of Herceptin.

NICOLA ROXON: Yes, look, this is something that's really just an adjustment. Originally this was only available as a drug for treatment of breast cancer in a much larger vial. It's a very expensive drug and it meant that a lot was being thrown away, because they can only last, in an open vial, for a certain period of time and there's all sorts of appropriate safety procedures. Through negotiation with us, the company has now agreed to also produce a smaller size vial and that means that, depending on the patient's weight and their particular needs, we can use the appropriate amount of the drug and waste less. So this is actually a saving, ultimately, to government, but a better use of every health dollar, to make sure we're not wasting valuable drugs.

ALAN JONES: Can I just - I shouldn't be doing this, I should do this off air, but you won't mind me doing it on air, but whoever's written the press release here has you including a drug for an enlarged prostrate and I think we need to get rid of that R before the...

NICOLA ROXON: Oh, thank you very much. I think we do. I think the spell check might have caused problems.

ALAN JONES: I think the spell check's not working here. Hodgkin disease?

NICOLA ROXON: Yes, look, there's a range of drugs that have been supported; one is for Hodgkins disease. There's a drug for MS, for cystic fibrosis.


NICOLA ROXON: There are still a small number of drugs that have been deferred and they're in the category of drugs where there are other alternative treatments available, except for one which is the botox one [indistinct]...

ALAN JONES: …That's right, where there is no alternative. What are you going to do about that?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, it's one that Cabinet made a decision to defer. It will get considered at a later date and we've prioritised all of those that are life-saving, or where there isn't another treatment available, or where it's a very severe disease. And I think we discussed that it's one that patients suffer in different levels.

But really the point our Government is keen to make, is we're continuing to list drugs. We are making a decision on occasion that some should be deferred and we really need the community, and we believe the Liberal Opposition, to start focusing on if they don't pass some of the budget savings measures, it's going to make it harder and harder in the future to be able to list these sorts of drugs that we know people desperately need.

ALAN JONES: Well, look...

NICOLA ROXON: I think there's a much bigger issue...


NICOLA ROXON: ...still coming down the track.

ALAN JONES: Yeah, I mean, but well done the Erbitux is really very, very important and well done to the manufacturer to stumping up the payment for the genetic test.

I just asked you last time about Xeloda, which is for that dreadful stage three [indistinct] colon cancer. That, I understand, has been deemed cost-effective by the PBAC?

NICOLA ROXON: Yeah. Look, my understanding is that it's not all the way through the process yet. So it's been through the first stage. We then negotiate a price arrangement and then it comes up to Cabinet for decision. It hasn't yet got to that last stage of the process. They work very quickly through it and I imagine it will be coming up to us in the next couple of months. But it's not one that's yet before us.

ALAN JONES: I suppose the one, Nicola, that everyone writes to me about and I'm sure you get a million letters, is this Invega Sustenna for schizophrenia, the - there are two drugs, I think, Invega for schizophrenia and Consta for bipolar disorder. Are they still in the pipeline?

NICOLA ROXON: No, the Invega Sustenna for schizophrenia is one of the ones that's been deferred. And the reason for that, even although it's a very

difficult decision, is that there is currently, from recollection, an injection that you can take weekly - this will be one that fortnightly, so it does mean that it's easier for people to comply with. But it is a treatment where there is an effective one that's also available.

Now I'm not - I am not at all suggesting that that would not have additional benefits for patients. But in the weighing up of which ones are the most critical, or where there's no alternative, it's obviously not in the same position.

ALAN JONES: And Consta for bipolar disorder?

NICOLA ROXON: I don't have that one in front of me on the list.


NICOLA ROXON: I'd have to take that one on notice I'm afraid. I think that might be one...

ALAN JONES: …All right. And then Targin I mentioned...

NICOLA ROXON: ...of the new...

ALAN JONES: ...and I mentioned to you Targin which is a new drug for chronic pain?

NICOLA ROXON: Yes, so it's in the group of seven that are being deferred, because obviously there are other alternatives for chronic pain - some of them do have side-effects for particular patients and that's why different options are always looked at.

ALAN JONES: Okay. Now given that you're making this announcement today, just for listeners and patients out there, without us going into the detail here, but the big one here, of course, is Erbitux, but then you are going to list drugs for Hodgkins disease, enlarged prostate, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis and psychosis and a smaller vial for Herceptin. If people out there now listening think well this could help me, what do they do next? Do they go to their doctor do they?

NICOLA ROXON: Yes, they do. Look, there is a process to put - once the decisions' made, to put it actually onto the PBS. It usually takes - so most of these drugs will be listed on the 1 September, that's when they - there's just a particular lead times; some of them from the 1 August. So they - going into the doctor for the script is always what a patient should do. But this information is available on the website as soon as it's announced, so they can also look up information if they want to.

ALAN JONES: Good on you. Thank you so much for ringing through. We really do appreciate the follow-up, I can't tell you - and it means a lot to so many people out there who are in circumstances neither you nor I would want to be in, hey?

NICOLA ROXON: Certainly.

ALAN JONES: Good on you.

NICOLA ROXON: Well thank you. Bye-bye.

ALAN JONES: Thank you so much. That's Nicola Roxon, the Federal Health Minister.