29 July 2021

Key bowel cancer drug gets listed

Colorectal cancer

Bowel cancer patients with unresectable or metastatic colorectal cancer will soon have an affordable treatment to help extend their lives. 

As of 1 August, the immuno-oncology treatment Keytruda will be listed on the PBS for the estimated 300 Australians each year whose bowel cancer is suitable for the drug. 

Currently, patients might pay more than $150,000 per course of treatment adding to the financial toxicity of their disease.

Bowel cancer is the second largest cause of cancer death in Australia. Around 15,000 patients are diagnosed each year, of which one third will lose their life to it. A smaller number of bowel cancers within that group have a biomarker, called deficient mismatch repair (dMMR), which identifies patients that may be suitable for treatment with immuno-oncology therapies such as Keytruda. 

“No longer will patients and their families be faced with the decision of whether to go into debt to fund this treatment, or to decline it.”

Julien Wiggins, CEO Bowel Cancer Australia

The drug is already available on the PBS for other types of cancer, including lung cancer and melanoma.

Julien Wiggins, the CEO at Bowel Cancer Australia, welcomed the PBS expansion of Ketruda’s use.

“This is the first immunotherapy to be subsidised for bowel cancer patients living with this rare subtype of bowel cancer,” she said in a press release.

“No longer will patients and their families be faced with the decision of whether to go into debt to fund this treatment, or to decline it.”

Anna Morris was 28 when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She couldn’t afford immunotherapy. It was only through financial support from family members that she was able to be treated. 

“I was able to access Keytruda but I know that isn’t always an option for some patients,” she said in a press release. “I am excited to hear that patients now have subsidised access to this treatment.”

The PBS listing follows other recent bowel cancer drug news of the PBAC recommendation to also list encorafenib on the PBS.