NHIA looking to cover three immunotherapy cancer drugs

Taipei, Taiwan's national health insurance program could cover three new immunotherapy drugs as soon as the end of June 2019 if pricing can be worked out, the National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA) said Thursday.

The three drugs, Keytruda, Opdivo and Tecentriq, can treat at least eight types of cancers and would benefit 800 cancer patients who currently do not have access to drugs that could treat their conditions, the NHIA said.

The medications would cost an estimated NT$800 million (US$25.9 million) a year to provide, according to the NHIA.

Tai Hsueh-yung director of the NHIA's Medical Review and Pharmaceutical Benefits Division, said Thursday the agency will negotiate the prices of the three drugs with their suppliers and will cover them once pricing is agreed upon.

There is no guarantee negotiations will yield quick results. The NHIA announced in 2018 it was planning to cover Yervoy, a prescription medicine used to treat melanoma, but discussions on the drug's price have to reach a final conclusion.

According to FDA-approved indications, the three drugs can be used to treat melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, classical Hodgkin Lymphoma, urothelial carcinoma, Squamous-cell carcinoma, renal cell carcinoma, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, liver cancer, and gastric cancer.

With the NHIA's limited funding, however, not all cancer patients would have access to the new drugs, Tai said.

Only cancer patients for whom there are no drugs in Taiwan that can effectively treat their condition or for whom bioassays show they would have a better response with immunotherapy drugs will have access to the new drugs, the official said.

Full details of the plan are expected to be announced in February.

Tsai stressed that immunotherapy drugs are not a panacea because they do not work for every cancer patient and may also cause serious side effects, and even some NHIA-covered targeted drugs are more effective for certain patients.

One global example cited by Tai was Yervoy, the first immunotherapy drug used to treat melanoma on the market, which she said was found to be more effective than existing options on about 20 percent of patients around the world.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel