Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's doorstop in Melbourne regarding PBS listings to benefit advanced lung cancer and cholesterol patients; Nauru.
The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
I’m delighted today, to be here at the amazing Monash Health Precinct. This is one of Australia’s great medical precincts, and to be flanked by incredible medical leaders such as Prof Eva Segelov and Prof Stephen Nicholls.
They are literally focussing on our lungs and our heart, so they represent the very essence of life and of Australian medical research at its best. And then to be here with our patients – to have Kevin and Mary, Peter and Maureen – all of whom could have faced a very different circumstance but because of brilliant medical researchers and brilliant clinicians and the work of our pharmaceutical companies, each of them has a long, rich future ahead of them.
There are two medicines that I’m privileged to announce today will be on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from the 1 November. Firstly, Keytruda, and what this is about is ensuring that patients will, for the first time, have access to these breakthrough immunotherapies that enliven the body’s own immune system so as it can fight back against, in this case, non-small cell lung cancer. In other words, we are giving patients with lung cancer the chance to fight back and to have a long, rich life.
Peter is living proof. Seven years ago, he was given seven months; seven years later he’s still here, having had the benefit of clinical trials with Keytruda and - a medicine which would otherwise have cost patients $188 thousand a year will now be available for $39.50 or $6.40 a script.
Eight-hundred and fifty patients who fall within the category of those that will benefit are now going to have the opportunity to have a real shot at a full life, and this is literally about saving lives and protecting lives, and I want to acknowledge Mark from MSD, who’s played such an important role in helping bring this medicine to Australian patients.
And then we have those patients with familial high cholesterol. What’s that? That’s an inherited condition. So, through no fault of their own, what we have is patients such as Kevin and Mary with an inherited high cholesterol condition that can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, complications, and of course, tragedy.
I’m delighted to announce that we will be listing Repatha, a medicine that will help 6000 patients, save up to $8000 a year, but much more importantly – help save your life and protect your life. And so these two new medicines will be available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from 1 November. You can only do this if you’ve got a strong economy, if you can pay for these medicines, if you can guarantee that if the medical experts list them we will list them.
And so I want to acknowledge MSD and Amgen for Keytruda and Repatha respectively. But particularly, to acknowledge our amazing medical researchers, and I know Andrew Stripp is here as the CEO of Monash Health and, Andrew, we’ve just announced that there’s a new MRI licence for the Monash Health Precinct.
That also takes effect as of 1 November, and that just means better access to diagnostic imaging from their patients. So, today is a red-letter day for our patients. It’s about saving lives and protecting lives. It’s about the heart and lungs of our patients – and for our patients it’s a great outcome – but for their families it’s an even better outcome.
I might invite Eva and Stephen and Mark, if they want to say anything.
Thank you very much.
We really are in a breakthrough era for cancer treatment, and indeed today, this very important announcement will allow us to bring ground-breaking treatment to Australian patients with lung cancer and their families.
Clinical trials have shown that for patients first diagnosed with lung cancer; they live much longer and have much fewer side-effects with Keytruda, an immune activating drug, than with our current treatment, which is chemotherapy. Keytruda will allow patients, many patients, to avoid having chemotherapy when they’re first diagnosed with lung cancer.
Cancer likes to trick the immune system and hide from it by sending signals to the immune cells to switch them off, and the signals are received on the immune cells by the PV1 receptor. Keytruda blocks the PV1 receptor so that the message from the cancer cannot get through, and instead of the immune system being suppressed, it activates, revs up, goes and finds the cancer and destroys it, just as the body does when it thinks that it has an infection.
We will now be able to give Keytruda to all patients who are eligible with lung cancer right at the first time of diagnosis, and many of those patients will not need chemotherapy.
Thank you, Minister.
Great, and that is the best definition of how immunotherapies work that I have ever heard.
So, Stephen – a hard act to follow.
The challenge is up.
It’s a great day for cardiology. Repatha inhibits something called PCSK9. It makes- it allows for the liver to have more receptors to remove more cholesterol out of the blood, and that’s important for patients with inherited forms of high cholesterol.
The inherited forms of high cholesterol are highly common in the Australian population. Nearly 1 in 200 individuals have some form of what we call FH, and in many of those individuals their cholesterol levels are unacceptably high and they are not only at a high risk of having a heart attack or stroke but they’re at a particularly high risk of having that at an early stage in life.
And so, this runs in families and it’s a big problem, and for many of our patients, while we use conventional therapies, many patients are either unable to tolerate those therapies, or even if they can use those therapies their cholesterol levels still remain too high.
We’ve seen with these agents, that they reduce cholesterol more than 50 per cent, they shrink the plaques in the arteries, and most importantly, they reduce the chances of having a heart attack, stroke or a need for a [inaudible] in the future. This is a game-changer for the management of these patients and we’re really excited about the announcement today.
Thank you. I think you’ve lived up to the task.
Today’s a great day for Australian patients living with advanced lung cancer. More than 1000 Australians are going to have access to Keytruda of the PBS from 1 November. This is a key milestone in ensuring that patients with lung cancer have access to the best medicines of immunotherapy as quickly as possible.
MSD is proud for our role in making sure that Keytruda has become available and we’re committed to working with the Australian Government to make Keytruda more widely available for other cancers.
I personally want to thank Minister Hunt and the Morrison Government for their support and unwavering commitment in ensuring Australians have access to timely and affordable life-saving medicines like Keytruda.
Thank you, Minister.
Look, happy to take any questions, firstly on the medicines, and then anything else after that.
Can the Australians [inaudible] expect to benefit from both of these drugs?
So, 850 Australians a year should benefit from Keytruda and up to 6000 Australians will benefit from Repatha, so this is of course the first time that any immunotherapy has been available in Australia for first resort or first line treatment.
Until now, it’s been the fall-back option on the basis of the medical advice, but because of the clinical trials, because of the work of our brilliant researchers, such as Prof Segelov, this is now going to be available as a first resort for patients.
And, exactly as Mark says, we’re working through all of the different indications for which these immunotherapies are available, and my view is: we can’t expand the access fast enough.
I’m just confirming: so both of those drugs will be available from next month, is that right?
Yeah. Both Keytruda and Repatha will be available for lung and heart patients from 1 November, so the middle of this week.
Can I ask now some other matters?
Yes, of course.
So Nauru: so why won’t the Coalition negotiate with Labor to find a way of resettling the families and children in Nauru?
Well, let’s be very clear here: that Labor put the families and the children onto Nauru and we’re taking them off. Over 200 children have come off. The ALP has of course blocked legislation that’s currently before the Senate that would assist in the process.
But, as the Prime Minister said only in the last 48 hour, in recent weeks an additional 30 children have been able to leave Nauru, so the best way to ensure that you have a compassionate program is to save lives at sea, to ensure that no new people are coming into these processing centres, and then to bring them off; and that’s what we’ve done.
We’ve brought all children out of detention within Australia. We have brought over 200 children off Nauru, and we’re achieving the very compassionate outcome that people sought – to stop the tragedies at sea, to stop people being interred in Australia – with 17 different detention centre’s closed – and then to ensure that we are able to progressively bring these children off Nauru, which is what we’re doing and what we will continue to do until none are left.
The Coalition has stopped the boats, but are you concerned that – the public sentiment about offshore processing is starting to shift now?
Look, I think Australians would be horrified if there was a recommencement of the boats, the people smuggles and the loss of lives at sea. And sadly, that appears to be the likely course of action if Mr Shorten’s plans come to fruition.
The people smugglers are lining up to bring more people to Australia in unsafe conditions that will ultimately lead to a recommencement of the tragedy under Mr Shorten. We know that, the Home Affairs Minister has made that absolutely clear and we saw it last time they were in government.
So the same people, largely, who were responsible for that set of policies would be responsible again for another set of policies that would allow the recommencement of this terrible human tragedy. I think it was one of the great policy failures in Australian history under the previous government that led to catastrophic loss of life at sea, and we will not let that happen.
And just quickly on another topic: will the Coalition talk to Labor and the crossbench in the Lower House about setting up a National Anticorruption Commission?
Look, I’ll leave that for the Attorney-General. I understand the Attorney-General is more across those issues, so I’ll respectfully leave that for him.
I do want to comment on one more thing: We’ve seen a very important study from Latrobe University that shows Australians are drinking less. In particular, young Australians are drinking less.
And that’s about better health outcomes for Australians, it’s about fewer hospitalisations and it’s about safer streets and safer venues, and I think that that’s a very important testament to a whole culture of self-awareness, self-responsibility, better management of alcohol and better health, and we’ll continue to do that.
For me, I have a deep, personal passion to ensure that, ultimately, we eradicate the challenge of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder in Australia. I think that if we can wipe out FASD we’ll be giving our children a better future so is no child is brought into this world with an avoidable, lifelong disability. And I want to thank all of the families, all of the parents, all of the young people and all of the medical advocates who’ve been involved in this really important, positive Australian development.
Okay, thank you very much.