Breakthrough cancer drug to benefit hundreds of patients as HSE approves reimbursement

10 October 2017

Hundreds of cancer patients stand to benefit from a breakthrough drug, Nivolumab, approved for financial reimbursement by the Health Service Executive (HSE) from Monday.

The drug is among many at the centre of a pricing controversy involving the HSE and the Department of Health. The drug is expected to benefit patients suffering skin cancer, kidney cancer and an aggressive type of blood cancer. Its cost could range from 50,000-100,000 per patient per annum depending on the type of cancer.

Minister for Health Simon Harris told the media in response to a parliamentary question on 3 October that the HSE had received separate applications for the reimbursement of treatments in the public health service for nivolumab (produced by Bristol-Myers Squibb under the brand name Opdivo) for eight separate indications, including for use as a combination therapy.

He added that following an assessment by the HSE and consultation with his department as regards the funding implications, nivolumab had been approved by the HSE for the treatment of melanoma, renal cell carcinoma, and Hodgkin lymphoma.

According to Harris the HSE expected the reimbursement of nivolumab for these indications in public hospitals to start from 9 October.

Between 2012-2014 around 1,700 people were diagnosed with the three cancers and nearly 400 patients died between 2011-2013.

The drug, which works by stimulating the body's own immune system to fight the cancer, has also been approved for use in combination with another cancer drug, ipilimumab.

According to studies, the combination of drugs could significantly extend the lives of thousands of cancer patients.

In a study of kidney cancer patients last year, it was found that 40 per cent of people treated with the drugs saw their tumours significantly reduce while 10 per cent were left with ''no detectable sign of cancer'' at all.

Also an international study on advanced melanoma patients in 2015 found that it stopped cancer advancing for nearly a year in 58 per cent of cases.

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