Gordon Campbell on Pharmac’s grudging concession to reality

Is this any way to run a health system… whereby terminally ill patients are forced into public demonstrations before the government (and its funding agency Pharmac) will grudgingly provide the money for life-saving treatments freely available and publically funded in Australia for the best part of a year? The money involved – $39 million for the anti-melano0ma drug Opdivo and other drugs – is a mere pittance in the context of government expenditure.

The government said Pharmac would get an extra $39 million next year to enable it to fund the new immunotherapy drug for some 350 patients with advanced melanoma, along with several other new drug treatments….

The agency is not saying what share of the $39m funding Opdivo would take. The other treatments to be funded include harvoni and viekira pak for Hepatitis C, Azithromycin for lung disease in children, rituximab for kidney disease in children, temozolomide brain and neuroendocrine tumours and oestradiol patches for menopausal women.

This column consistently compares the miserly sums allocated to health treatments that save actual lives, with the huge amounts handed over without a murmur to counter the purely theoretical threats facing our Defence forces. e.g. the $440 million armaments upgrade earlier this year for the Navy frigates, the multi-million upgrade to submarine detection (!) capacity of our P-3 Orions, and the $46 million spent last month on a no-expense spared “ world class” “Battle Training Facility” that will train our soldiers for combat by enabling them to play video-games (!) with live ammunition.

The Papakura four-storey “world class” special operations facility – which, from the outside, looks like nothing more than a plain concrete building – is an all-weather, live firing and 360-degree battle training ground that will allow New Zealand’s best soldiers to simulate scenario-specific training.

As yet, there is no detail on (a) how access to Opdivo will be rationed or (b) the duration of the treatment that will be funded by Pharmac. Will patients be cut adrift after say, three months treatment or will the treatment be funded until either the patient recovers, or dies? Such details will determine whether Pharmac’s change of heart is genuine, or largely cosmetic. While the public relations battle between Opdivo vs Keytruda has dominated the headliners, the benefits to hepatitis C sufferers of this belated burst of Pharmac funding is also welcome. It is appalling that these patients have had to wait for so long, for what has been all along, a readily affordable and life-saving treatment, if the government had felt so inclined.

Best news of all though, for the Bristol Myers Squibb drug company who make Opdivo:

It was good to be Bristol-Myers Squibb in the first quarter.

The New Jersey pharma giant came up with monster sales for Q1, posting a top-line haul of $4.39 billion to surpass analysts’ $4.27 billion expectations. In turn, EPS also beat out forecasts, coming in at 74 cents to best 65-cent consensus estimates by 14%……So how did BMS get there? It started with high-flying immuno-oncology med Opdivo, which generated $704 million for the quarter to knock aside expectations of $587 million….More than $1 million of that beat came from its performance in the U.S., where it raked in $594 million to squash $489.1 million expectations.

BMS has taken the oncology field by storm since first launching the newcomer in melanoma. The product–up against Merck ($MRK) competitor Keytruda–now also boasts indications in non-small-cell lung cancer and kidney cancer, and it recently posted strong data in head and neck cancer, its next frontier.

Given profits on that scale, maybe BSM can afford to offer Opdivo for free to advanced melanoma sufferers in New Zealand between now and when Pharmac starts to pick up the tab on July 1st…

Leicester City, With Hindsight

Writing about politics is usually a dour exercise –often you’re coming up with evidence that the situation is even worse than previously thought. So o seems worth noting this week’s main good news story: namely the triumph of 5,000 to one long shots Leicester City in football’s Premier League. The potency of the story in a world where – more than ever – the deck seems stacked against the underdog, and in favour of the monied and the privileged, is obvious. Leicester City is the exception that enables us to forget (for a moment or two) the iron rule of the one per cent.

Leicester City’s triumph also illustrates the fallibility of those people – like me –who try to predict likely outcomes. Out of curiosity, I looked up these early season predictions about Leicester City’ chances. They make interesting reading. This first link tried to apply statistical data a la Nate Silver – mid-season, right in the midst of Leicester City’s surprising success thus far – to “prove” how and why the Foxes’ lucky streak would not continue, give the likely fatal combination of the stats on (a) “total shot ratio” (b) the “conversion rate” and (c) the waning of the home ground advantage.

Hilarious. Even more amusing are the “realistic” early season predictions of the LC fans, who rate Leicester City chances as being pretty good for finishing around…. oh, 15th or 18th on the table.

Radiohead, Return

And here is Radiohead’s new single – which is against intolerance, and in favour of….. tolerance. No spoilers here. But the video makes its point via a fun-filled use of that old film classic about the horreurs of British rural life, The Wicker Man.

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1 Comment on Gordon Campbell on Pharmac’s grudging concession to reality

  1. The Merck profit margin “reality”.

    Long term survival stats are not in for the overpriced drug,patients should’ve been protesting big pharma’s heists .
    Fact is terminal patients in NZ do not usually get the medical care or funding they need.

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