State to cover cost of ‘miracle drug’

Patients with certain forms of skin cancer are to have the cost of a new “miracle drug” covered by the State, the Taoiseach told the Dáil, insisting Ireland would be at the forefront in using breakthrough medicines.

Ipilimumab, which is used to treat metastatic melan-oma, costs around €85,000 per person, for an average four-dose treatment, and is not reimbursed by the HSE or private health insurers.

James Reilly, the health minister, is in talks with the drug company on reducing this cost. A conclusion on those discussions is expected in the coming days.

“The minister would be confident of securing a conclusion to those negotiations in the not too distant future,” Enda Kenny said. “A conclusion will come to those [talks] fairly quickly and the drug will come to market.”

He was replying during Leaders’ Questions to Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, who asked: “How many patients have to die before you give sanction to this drug in our health service?”

He said the drug was used to treat the most deadly form of skin cancer and was “the most significant breakthrough in 30 years” for treatment of the drug.

“The delay is having devastating consequences for Irish patients with advanced melanoma and there are at least 16 patients presently awaiting the drug.”

Mr Kenny said there was no “deliberate hold-up” and that “this drug is due for release and when it is released it will be reimbursable”.

The issue was raised recently by cancer specialist and senator John Crown and a number of patients in need of the drug highlighting their anxieties on the Joe Duffy radio programme on RTÉ.

Mr Kenny said: “The evidence of the consequences of treating people with this drug is that one in 10 get a good reprieve. In other cases, it gives a shorter-term reprieve.”

It is estimated that the gross cost of the drug here would range from €4.8m to €7.4m this year, based on its current price.


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