A new prostate cancer drug delays the spread of the disease. Picture: iStock
A new prostate cancer drug delays the spread of the disease. Picture: iStock

Breakthrough cancer drug’s shocking cost

A NEW prostate cancer drug that has been found to dramatically extend the lives of men with the disease has been fast tracked onto the Australian market.

Studies have found that Erlyand delays prostate cancer from spreading to other organs in the body by more than 3 years after men have had surgery.

In high risk men not using the treatment the cancer typically spreads within 16 months and they die two years later.

A trial involving over 1,200 patients found risk of death or cancer spreading beyond the prostate was 70 per cent lower among those using the drug.

The drug will help around 6,000 men a year who have high-risk, non-metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.

All the men in the trial continued to receive standard androgen deprivation therapy as well as the new drug.

Dr Paul Mainwaring from the Mater and Canossa Private Hospitals in Brisbane supervised the treatment of 40 Australian men who took part in the trial.

"This is a big step forward for men with high risk prostate cancer," he said.

"None have died of prostate cancer in the trials that have been going for 8 years across the globe," he said.

The trial began in October 2013 and some men are taking the tablets with no sign of metastatic disease (cancer that has spread beyond the prostate) he said.

"If you get the drug early it slows the cancer down in an incredible way," he said.

The medicine works by blocking the action of testosterone in prostate cancer cells and prevents the hormone androgen, which plays a role in prostate cancer growth, from binding to the androgen receptor.

The $45,000 a year drug was approved for sale on the Australian market in record time earlier this month under a new initiative which allows Australian regulators to share drug approval work with other countries.

It normally takes on average 11 months to approve new medications for sale but because our Therapeutic Goods Administration shared the workload with Canada's drug regulator it took just four months to gain approval.

Access to the drug was fast tracked because regulators in Australia and Canada shared the work. Picture: iStock.
Access to the drug was fast tracked because regulators in Australia and Canada shared the work. Picture: iStock.

"Hats off to the government, this is a really important step forward as global co-operation has allowed early access," says Dr Mainwaring.

Although the new treatment is now available in Australia it is not yet subsidised by the Federal Government so it will cost men $45,000.

It typically takes several years for new treatments to get through the process of winning a government subsidy.

Janssen Australia said its priority was to ensure Australian patients who will benefit from ERLYAND received wide access to treatment as soon as possible.

"While we work towards filing a submission to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee for the reimbursement of ERLYAND, which we hope is just as smooth, we intend to have the treatment available to eligible patients prior to then via private prescription, Janssen's managing director Bruce Goodwin said.

"Interested patients should speak to their specialists for further information."

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, and it is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in Australia.

More than 17,000 new cases of prostate cancer expected to be diagnosed in Australia this year, and approximately 3,500 men will lose their lives.



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