Australia's largest supplier of oncology drugs will make cancer patients pay for treatments which used to be free

Chemotherapy treatment. Photo: Justin Sullivan/ Getty.

Roche, Australia’s largest supplier of oncology drugs, will no longer provide free, early access to medicines not yet publicly funded by the government’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Roche and Novartis Oncology, the cancer division of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, told a Senate inquiry they are no longer able to bear the costs of the medicine when it is has been registered but not yet fully approved – which in some cases can be as long as five years.

The drug company giants are instead moving ­towards co-­payment ­arrangements, where most cancer patients will be required to pay part of the costs of their treatment.

The Australian reports Roche said that it was not “financially sustainable” for the company to provide free or subsidised ­access to its drugs during this approval period.

Last year Novartis paid for the treatment of 423 patients, totaling more than $15 million.

Now it’s patients will have to cover 25% of the cost.

Such extended periods of time will likely cause other drug companies to adopt similar cost-effective measures, Novartis told the inquiry.

Australia is one of the slowest countries in the developed world in approving new medicines. Cancer sufferers currently wait an average 573 days for potentially life-saving drugs.

In a recent report released by Medicines Australia, Australia ranked 18 out of 20 when it comes to access to new medicines against comparable OECD countries.

“Patients in many other OECD countries have 75% or more of the new medicines reimbursed and readily available through Government funding,” said Medicines Australia Chairman, Dr Martin Cross.

Australians have access to just 39%.

The Senate inquiry into the availability of new, innovative and specialist cancer drugs in Australia, has received more than 160 submissions. The reporting date of the hearing has been granted an extension until 17 June 2015.

A public hearing is due to be held on Monday.

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