Immunotherapy drug Keytruda
Immunotherapy drug Keytruda Contributed

Oncologist backs push to make key drug affordable

COAST oncologist Dr Hong Shue says the handful of mesothelioma patients taking Keytruda under his direction are responding to the drug.

Dr Shue, who is based at the Sunshine Coast Haematology and Oncology Clinic, supported the idea of the immunotherapy drug becoming available to his and other patients through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

He said the drug or other immunotherapy medications were usually considered after patients had undergone standard chemotherapy.

"None of these treatments are cures," Dr Shue said.

"We are aiming to basically control the disease.

"They basically get a stable disease for 12 months or two years."

He said results from clinical trials, all of which were in early phases, showed a response rate in about 20 per cent of patients.

But he said he had three or four patients who were currently using Keytruda with some degree of success.

"Unfortunately is it all self-funding. They have to pay for it."

Dr Shue said the cost was about $9000 a dose but a cost-sharing arrangement offered by the drug's maker brought it down to between $5500 and $6000 a dose.

Doses are administered intravenously about every three weeks.

He said the company also had a cap on payment at $60,000 after which the cost per treatment reduced to about $800 a dose.

"Having something like Keytruda (on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) is going to give people additional options.

"The problem at the moment is people can't afford it."

He said he had not seen dramatic improvements in his mesothelioma patients using Keytruda.

"But certainly it stabilised the disease and if nothing else, it has improved some of the symptoms."