Cancer drug that saved Ron Walker’s life cleared in the US, but not Australia

Source: Herald Sun News, March 2014

Ron Walker

Ron Walker (right) at the Royal Children’s Hospital. Source: News Corp Australia

THE drug that saved Ron Walker’s life may not be widely available to Australian cancer patients for at least another year, even though it is now available to desperately sick patients in the US.

US health authorities this week paved the way for a limited number of critical patients to receive its revolutionary melanoma drug, lambrolizumab, as a last-ditch chance of survival, and are expected to approve the full use of the drug for melanoma patients later this year.

But red tape surrounding the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme means it is likely the lifesaver anti PD-1 drug may not be approved for subsidised use in Australia until mid next year at the earliest, and possibly not until 2016.

Sadly, the overseas access to the drug came too late to save Melbourne-born father Nick Auden, who died of melanoma last year after his viral campaign to access the drug gained attention around the world.

The drug – designed to restart the patient’s immune system after it has been switched off by a cancer protein called PD-1 – has been hailed as a wonderdrug able to shrink tumours in more than half the patients receiving high doses.

Grand Prix boss Mr Walker was saved by drug after being placed on a trial of the medication and in now in discussions with Health Minister Peter Dutton about accelerating its Australian access.

“It saved my life. It stops melanoma in its tracks,” Mr Walker said.

“Minister Dutton has been very forthcoming in his views about these trials and hopefully he will personally assist this cause in convincing the PBS to treat this drug as an urgent situation.”

Prof Grant McArthur, Mr Walker’s oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, said the PD-1 drugs offered a new potential option for fighting cancer that should be made available to patients sooner rather than later.

“I have been working in oncology for 30 years and I have not seen agents this promising for melanoma in that time,” Prof McArthur said.

“We have concerns historically about how long it takes to get new treatments approved by the PBS and we would very much welcome steps to have that accelerated in the case of very promising drugs like the PD-1 targeted drugs.”

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