Cancer Blog

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Let's Talk - Access to Unfunded Medicines in New Zealand

Aug 7, 2020

Dr Fritha Hanning explains how cancer patients can access medicines that are not readily available in New Zealand.

“Probably the best place to start the discussion around accessing cancer medicines that are unfunded, is to firstly look at what medicines are available through our public health system. In the public sector, PHARMAC and the Government, via regulatory agency Medsafe, go through a rigorous process to assess new treatments and decide which of those they can afford to fund. There are going to be treatments that are perhaps not so new and not as expensive, like chemotherapy, that PHARMAC quickly make available to be used in the public sector.”

“When a new drug is developed, and it’s reached the point that it is now licensed and approved to be used in another country, it can take time for that drug to reach patients in New Zealand. For example, a drug might be developed and approved in America by the FDA [America’s Food and Drug Administration] who has said ‘yes, we approve this for use in this situation because its showing patient benefit’, it will then take time for that drug to go through the assessment process in New Zealand and be available for use with patients in the public sector.”

This process involves Medsafe, New Zealand’s medicines regulatory agency, reviewing and approving the drug for use in New Zealand, and PHARMAC deciding whether to fund the drug for patients.

“There are some cancer patients who really can’t wait for these new and emerging medicines to be made available, and will want to access the medication earlier so they can get the benefits that have been shown in the research for that drug or therapy. In New Zealand, we have a piece of legislation (under the Medicines Act 1981) called section 29, which allows unapproved, and unfunded, drugs to be brought in and used to treat a patient, provided that both the doctor and the patient agree that there is a benefit and that the risks are worth the benefit.

“At Canopy we have a team who are experts at sourcing medicines from locations around the world and bringing them in to New Zealand under section 29 so patients can benefit from the research and change that is occurring with cancer medicines.

“If you, or your medical insurer, are prepared to pay for a new and emerging therapy, and take a chance on a new medicine which has been developed, you absolutely want to be sure that the medicine is actually what it says on the bottle, and you are receiving the drug you want that you feel would benefit your care. The team at Canopy have an obligation to make sure that it comes from a registered source and that it contains what it says on the bottle. We go through a very comprehensive process to verify that the suppliers we use for these medicines are recognised and trusted.”


Useful links and more information: 

·         Section 29 of the Medicines Act 1981 and other information about assessing drugs for use in New Zealand, can be found here at Medsafe, New Zealand’s medicines regulatory authority.

·         How medicines are funded - PHARMAC’s process for all funding applications 

·         Information on medical insurance and drugs that will be covered by medical cover


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