Doctor backs adding drug to benefits scheme in fight to control leukaemia

EXPERT: Dr Doug Lenton.
EXPERT: Dr Doug Lenton.

Orange-based leukaemia expert Dr Doug Lenton has backed a move to add a key drug to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme [PBS].

Dr Lenton said the drug, Imbruvica, was important for people living with severe forms of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia [CLL].

He said about 10-12 people in the Orange region were on the drug – part of about 1000 nationwide.

Until now the drug has been too expensive for most people to afford.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the drug would be added to the PBS under a $460 million government subsidy this week.

The medicine had cost about $187,000 per year, but the government assistance would reduce the cost to $38.80 per month, or $6.30 per month for patients with concession cards.

Dr Lenton said it provided an alternative to chemotherapy for sufferers.

“The big advantage of it is it’s not as toxic as chemotherapy, it’s very well tolerated, it’s a simple tablet,” he said.

“It’s very convenient, very simple and extremely effective.

“I see 70-80 people with [CLL].”

CLL is a type of cancer where bone marrow makes too many white blood cells.

He said it was the most common form of leukaemia.

Ibruvica works by blocking the signals that tell the white cells to multiply and spread uncontrollably.

Dr Lenton said it would also be easier for the mainly elderly people with CLL to deal with.

“The patients tend to be older, the more elderly you are the less likely you are to withstand the rigours of intravenous chemotherapy.”

He said patients should not rely on the drug but should look at it as one of their options.

He said the drug did not cure CLL, rather it was a long-term control mechanism that people would take for a long time.

Dr Lenton said the drug took hundreds of millions of dollars to create and while it was probably not cheaper than chemotherapy it was likely to be more cost-effective in the long-term.

He said it helped patients avoid having to go to hospital for regular treatments – preventing any associated costs and risks.

Dr Lenton said it was likely the incidence of CLL would increase with as people continued to live longer.