Combination treatment option for CLL patients now available through PBS
Monday 30 November, 2020
The Leukaemia Foundation has welcomed news that a new specialised combination treatment will be made available to some Australians living with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) from tomorrow.
The Federal Minister for Health, The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, has announced that CLL patients unsuitable for standard chemotherapy-based treatments will now have access through the PBS to venetoclax in combination with obinutuzumab as a first line combination treatment option.
CLL is a slow-growing leukaemia affecting developing B-lymphocytes which is commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 60. These specialised white blood cells usually produce antibodies to protect against infection and disease, but instead undergo a malignant change to become leukaemic cells.
CLL can remain stable for months and years causing minimal impact on lifestyle and general health for many people diagnosed with this blood cancer, however in other cases, the leukaemic cells multiply uncontrollably, crowding the bone marrow and interfering with normal blood cell production, and these cases can require treatment soon after diagnosis.
While CLL is a relatively rare type of cancer, it is the most common type of leukaemia diagnosed in Australia. Currently, 1,875 Australians are diagnosed with CLL each year, however this figure is projected to reach 3,800 by 2035. The number of Australians losing their life to this blood cancer each year is also expected to more than triple during this time, from 306 Australians annually in 2020 to 1109 in 2035.
Leukaemia Foundation General Manager of Blood Cancer Partnerships Tim Murphy said while conventional chemotherapy is often the starting point for CLL treatment, there has been a strong unmet need for access to additional first-line treatment options for this blood cancer, which the organisation has been advocating to change.
“The Leukaemia Foundation is committed to empowering Australians with blood cancer to better manage its impacts and live well after diagnosis, which is especially important for people with blood cancers like CLL that develop and progress slowly,” he said.
“Unfortunately some CLL patients are unfit for chemotherapy or struggle tolerating its side effects, and it is crucial that these Australians have an accessible and affordable alternate option available to them as they undertake what can be a lengthy blood cancer journey.
“As a daily orally-administered treatment which can for the most part be taken at home, venetoclax in combination with obinutuzumab is an effective and relatively unobtrusive option for these patients which avoids the debilitating side effects they would otherwise face with chemotherapy-based therapies, thereby improving their quality of life and simplifying access to the treatment they need.
“The Leukaemia Foundation has been advocating for access to innovative treatment options and we celebrate this result for Australians living with CLL.
“The Leukaemia Foundation is proud to stand beside all Australians living with blood cancer to be their voice and fight to get them access to the best therapies to treat their specific disease, wherever they live, as we work towards our shared vision to see zero lives lost to blood cancer by 2035.”
Late last year the Leukaemia Foundation released the State of the Nation: Blood Cancer in Australia report, which led to Minister Hunt supporting the Leukaemia Foundation to establish a Blood Cancer Taskforce.
The Blood Cancer Taskforce is a unique collaboration of Australia’s leading haematologists, researchers, patients and members of the blood cancer community who have spent the past year working with the Leukaemia Foundation to develop Australia’s first National Strategic Action Plan for Blood Cancer.
The Minister recently announced the release of the National Action Plan, which provides a blueprint to tackle key issues facing people affected by blood cancer today and into the future, and maps the path to achieve zero lives lost to blood cancer by 2035.
Mr Murphy said the release of the National Action Plan marked a major milestone for the blood cancer community which will set the national agenda around blood cancer for many years to come and ultimately improve outcomes and quality of life for patients.
“Breaking down barriers to patient access to therapies which are most effective and appropriate for them is a priority of the National Action Plan,” he said.
“We commend the Minister for listing this therapy on the PBS as another step in the right direction providing access to treatment for some Australians living with blood cancer, and we look forward to seeing further progress in this area into the future as the National Action Plan is implemented.”
The Leukaemia Foundation provides free practical, emotional and educational support to Australians diagnosed with a blood cancer including CLL and other leukaemias. The Leukaemia Foundation produces a series of disease specific newsletters including CLL News, and invites all Australians living with the disease to subscribe to ongoing information here.