Pharmac deal good news for New Zealanders

The Government is welcoming news the national drug-funding agency Pharmac has secured an agreement for medicines that will help New Zealanders with lung cancer, ovarian cancer and severe asthma.

“The Government has increased Pharmac funding by 25 percent over the past four years in order to make deals for new medicines like this possible,” Health Minister Andrew Little said. 

“The agreement with AstraZeneca includes new discounts on three medicines Pharmac already funds, the extension of a medicine for ovarian cancer to more people and, importantly, the purchase of new medicines to treat people with a severe form of asthma and with stage-three lung cancer

“The lung-cancer treatment is particularly significant because it offers people with lung cancer the potential to extend their lives more than what is possibly now, especially when combined with what might come out of a multi-million dollar research programme about to get under way.”

Every year, about 1800 New Zealanders die from lung cancer.

“It’s the biggest cause of cancer-related death in this country and often it isn’t diagnosed until it’s too late to treat it,” Andrew Little said.

“It can be difficult for patients and doctors to recognise the symptoms for what they are, and getting access to scans or biopsies for a timely diagnosis may not be easy.”

One of the goals of a new research project being funded by Te Aho o Te Kahu, the Health Research Council and the Ministry of Health is finding effective and equitable ways of detecting lung cancers sooner, so people can be treated with medicines like durvalumab, which is part of the bundle Pharmac has secured from AstraZeneca.

“This is what a joined-up health service looks like – health agencies working together to identify problems and find and implement solutions,” Andrew Little said.

“We’ve increased Pharmac’s budget to $1.1 billion but what’s just as important is making sure our system of supplying medicines is working with other parts of the health system. That’s what our health reforms are about.”


  • Lung cancer is the biggest cause of cancer-related deaths in New Zealand, with about 1800 people dying from it each year. Most is non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
  • Māori are three times more likely than New Zealand Europeans to develop lung cancer and to die from it.
  • People are more likely to survive if they are diagnosed early, because treatments like surgery are available. Eight out of 10 people diagnosed early are still alive five years later, but fewer than one in 10 who are diagnosed with late-stage cancer live for five years. Survival ate is even worse for Māori.
  • The reasons people are diagnosed late include:
    • Low awareness – among the public and primary-care health professions – of the symptoms of lung cancer. Often coughing and tiredness are attributed to something else.
    • Difficulty getting diagnostic tests, like scans and biopsies.
  • The other medicines in the AstraZeneca bundle purchased by Pharmac are:
    • benralizumab for treating several eosinophilic asthma
    • widened access to olaparib, a first-line treatment for some types of ovarian cancer.

Discounts on budesonide (the Symbiocort Tubuhaler for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), fulvestrant (Faslodex, for treating a type of breast cancer) and gefitinib (Iressa, for treating a type of cancer called epidermal growth factor receptor  awaiting explanation of this)