Life-saving treatment for triple negative breast cancer a step closer to being funded - News & Updates • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

Life-saving treatment for triple negative breast cancer a step closer to being funded

Hope is on the horizon for Kiwis with the most aggressive form of breast cancer now that Pharmac’s cancer advisors have recommended pembrolizumab (branded as Keytruda) be funded for both early and advanced triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).

Between 10 to 15% of all breast cancers are triple negative, which means they don’t have the hormone receptors (oestrogen, progesterone and HER2) commonly found in other types of breast cancer. This means there are fewer treatment options, giving it a much lower survival rate. TNBC is more likely to occur in younger women.

Unlike other types of breast cancer, there are no funded targeted treatments for TNBC in New Zealand, leaving these women at higher risk of their cancer returning or spreading.

Ah-Leen Rayner, chief executive of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, is hoping Pharmac acts swiftly to make the drug available: “Keytruda is the first immunotherapy drug to offer TNBC patients hope – clinical trials have proven it can save and extend women’s lives.

“It’s really promising that Pharmac recognises how desperately we need this drug funded in NZ and that Keytruda will particularly help Māori and Pasifika women, who are more at risk of dying from breast cancer. But we know Pharmac’s approval process could take years and Kiwis are in dire need of Keytruda now.

“NZ is already out of step with international best practice of using immunotherapy to treat TNBC. We’re urging Pharmac to give Keytruda the priority it deserves, and the Government to increase Pharmac’s budget because without appropriate levels of investment, Pharmac’s list of approved drugs will remain meaningless.”

Pharmac’s positive recommendation for Keytruda to treat TNBC was made public last week as it published the minutes from its Cancer Treatments Advisory Committee meeting held in October 2023.