1 September 2015 was a huge and monumental day for me and for all Metastatic Melanoma patients in Australia with the news that the drug Keytruda received Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) listing as the first line of treatment for metastatic melanoma patients in Australia. Keytruda is the immunotherapy treatment that is responsible for seeing me have significant reduction in all my tumors since being diagnosed with Unresectable Metastatic Melanoma (Stage IV) in February 2014.
On Tuesday (1 September 2015), I was invited to spend the day in Sydney as a special guest for the Merck Sharp Dohme (MSD) celebration launch party of the drug listing to speak on my journey with melanoma thus far to the lovely staff at MSD. I can honestly say it was the most emotional speech I have ever done, and the one that I am truly grateful for! The team at MSD, I have witnessed really do show unwavering compassion for the patient and care about ensuring that advanced treatments such as this are made readily assessable for patient access at an affordable cost.
In April of 2014 when I had completed a round of a different immunotherapy treatment as an interim treatment measure in a hope that it would ‘buy me’ extra precious time with my loved ones and keep me around long enough for other drug treatments to become available, I was left in a state of limbo upon its completion, as many melanoma patients have also experienced. By sheer luck my ‘limbo period’ in the whole scheme of things was relatively short (but for a cancer patient time is of the essence), when I received the news that I was granted compassionate grounds access to MK-3475 or Pembrolizumab (now formally known as Keytruda). So much hard work has been completed and achieved by some amazing advocates and especially the team at MSD, along with many oncology researchers to get this treatment publicly assessable. I am also extremely proud of the campaigning that my husband Ant and I did to make my story known amongst our Australian Senators and Federal Members of Parliament. I am also extremely grateful for the time they gave in responding so personally to our plight.
For some, I know the timing may be bitter-sweet, and it is heartbreaking for all of us affected by cancer to know of the lives that have been taken while we have waited for this day. Many people do not realize just how important this line of treatment is in providing longevity for advanced melanoma patients along with the stability and independence it creates for the patient and their families during a period that is extremely unpredictable. For those that respond well to the three (3) weekly infusion treatments, side effects can be minimal and a patient can go about living a relatively good life while this immunotherapy drug goes to work.
Thank you to the lovely Hayley Andersen, CEO of Melanoma Patients Australia (MPA) and the fabulous and amazing team at MSD for tirelessly doing what you do to create life extension for many advanced patients likes myself. Thank you for honouring me as one of your invited guests on Tuesday, and to the lovely staff at the Australian Broadcasting Studios in Sydney on the ABC Midday News especially Ros Childs who showed compassion and support to a very nervous little Naked Gardiner. I had much to say but couldn’t muster the words to accurately articulate appropriately what I wanted voiced. Media shy to say the least!
As we all know, time with our loved ones is the most precious gift a cancer patient can be granted. I hope the Australian public and my followers realise just how important a development like this is in Australia’s oncology history.
Please feel free to view both Hayley Andersen of MPA and I speaking to Ros Childs of ABC Midday News. (Please note that this video has been supplied as a courtesy of the ABC and is not for further reproduction. Rights are reserved exclusively to the ABC).
Please take the time to read the Melanoma Patients Australia Media Release below.
BREAKTHROUGH TREATMENTS FOR PATIENTS OF ADVANCED MELANOMA NOW AVAILABLE ON THE PBS: KEYTRUDA & MEKINIST
Melanoma Patients Australia (MPA) welcomes the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) listings of the PD1 inhibitor pembrolizumab (Keytruda) today and that of the MEK inhibitor, trametinib (Mekinist) on 1st August 2015.
“MPA applauds the Health Minister and indeed the government for ensuring that patients with advanced melanoma cancer can now access these breakthrough medicines” said CEO of MPA, Hayley Andersen.
“We are incredibly pleased that some of the anxiety for patients around accessing these treatments and in particular Keytruda has come to an end. These new listings provide patients with options and we encourage patients to discuss these options with their doctor” she said.
Ms Andersen added, “Patient access to the best treatments available remains an important issue for MPA and we encourage patients that have concerns to get in touch with us.”
“As a Medical Oncologist involved in treating patients with melanoma, the knowledge of the PBS listing of Keytruda is excellent news. This listing provides access for all patients in Australia with advanced and incurable melanoma. Australia will be one of the first countries in the world to provide reimbursed access to Keytruda as a first line therapy, and given our incidence of melanoma, it is appropriate that we are leading the world with access to Keytruda” said Dr. Victoria Atkinson, a leader in Melanoma Oncology with extensive experience in the newer targeted agents and immunotherapies.
Often referred to as Australia’s cancer because we have the highest incidence in the world, more than 12,500 Australians are diagnosed with melanoma each year and 1500 will die as a result of the disease.
Karen Van Gorp is a patient currently on a Keytruda trial and for whom the results have been extremely positive.
Ms Van Gorp said, “I am delighted that the Health Minister has listed Keytruda on the PBS not only so that my own treatment can continue but so that others dealing with melanoma can be treated and hopefully go on to enjoy their lives as I have.”
“Keytruda has given me time with my children that is invaluable.” she said.
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Photos courtesy of Hayley Andersen and MSD
Video courtesy of ABC Midday News – rights restricted for reproduction