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Myeloma patients can look forward to a targeted new treatment option on PBS in 2021

Monday December 28, 2020

The Leukaemia Foundation is celebrating the news that for the first time in more than a decade, a new type of medicine targeting multiple myeloma will be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), with the listing effective from day one of the new year.

The Federal Minister for Health, The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, has announced multiple myeloma patients whose blood cancer has progressed after initial treatment will be able to access daratumumab through the PBS starting 1 January 2021. The medicine will be used in combination with bortezomib and dexamethasone as a second line treatment.

Multiple myeloma is a complex blood cancer affecting the body’s plasma cells, which produce antibodies. Myeloma develops when plasma cells undergo a cancerous change and multiply at an increasing rate, taking over the bone marrow. It most commonly occurs in people aged 40 and older, and it is slightly more prevalent in men. Patients experience weaker bones which are more prone to breaking, as well as bone pain, kidney damage, frequent infections, anaemia and increased bleeding and bruising.

Currently, 2,339 people are diagnosed with myeloma each year, however it is expected 4,952 people will be diagnosed with this type of blood cancer in 2035. Sadly, 1,054 Australians already lose their life to myeloma each year, and this figure is projected to increase to 3,037 people by 2035.[1][2]

Daratumumab is a targeted therapy that works by attaching to a specific protein on the surface of a myeloma cell, and by doing so triggers the patient’s own immune system to attack and destroy myeloma cancer cells.

The Minister’s announcement is the first time in 13 years that an innovative new agent encompassing a different mode of action against myeloma has received a PBS listing, with an estimated 1,000 Australians reportedly eligible to benefit from the listing each year.

Leukaemia Foundation General Manager of Blood Cancer Partnerships Tim Murphy said the Minister’s announcement marks an important and progressive step to address a high unmet need for new myeloma treatment options.

“While treatment options and survival rates for some blood cancers are improving, the sad reality is that myeloma is an incurable disease which becomes progressively harder to treat after each relapse as patients become refractory to different treatments, so the impact of a diagnosis of myeloma on peoples’ lives and the ongoing affect to their health remains severe,” he said.

“This is a fantastic and important win to kickstart a new year for around 18,000 Australians who are currently living with myeloma.

“This innovative treatment option is ground-breaking and has the ability to truly turn the tables for some myeloma patients in what can be a long fight against this debilitating blood cancer.

Mr Murphy said the Leukaemia Foundation has been advocating for access to innovative treatment options, including for increased access to daratumumab, and welcomed this result for Australians living with myeloma.

“We are proud to stand beside Australians living with blood cancer to be their voice and fight to get them access to the best therapies, wherever they live, as we work with the broader blood cancer community towards the shared vision to see zero lives lost to blood cancer by 2035,” he said.

In 2019, 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.

In September this year, the Minister 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 for patients, including those diagnosed with myeloma.

“Enabling access to novel and specialised therapies, including removing roadblocks to patient access to these therapies, is a key priority of the National Action Plan,” he said.

“This announcement by the Minister is a step in the right direction to break down these barriers 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.”

END

[1] https://www.leukaemia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/State-of-the-Nation-Blood-Cancer-in-Australia_Leukaemia-Foundation.pdf
[2] https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/cancer-data-in-australia/contents/summary