CAR T therapies may be funded within two years, minister says


By Michael Woodhead

17 Oct 2018

Health minister Greg Hunt

Health minister Greg Hunt

Federal minister for health Greg Hunt says the government is keen to see CAR T-cell therapy funded for people with cancer and he wants Australia to become the Southern hemisphere centre for such treatments.

Speaking after the Council of Australia Governments (COAG) health ministers meeting in Adelaide on 11 October, he said his department had asked TGA and the Medicare Services Advisory Committee to fast track approval of the therapy with a view to having it available within two years.

“We have asked our medical authorities to expedite the assessment. They’ll make an assessment as to whether it’s safe and whether it works, but the news coming out of America is very, very positive, and today, we’re asking all of the states and territories to work with the Australian Government in bringing this forward as soon as possible, subject to the medical assessments,” he said.

The minister said he did not want to pre-empt decisions by the TGA and MSAC but he was hopeful there would be a positive result in November.

“Within the next month the Medical Services Advisory Committee will be examining the safety and effectiveness of CAR T treatment … The advice is very positive but they still have to do all of their assessments. But if they approve it, we will implement it,” he said.

“We could have the first treatments in the next couple of years, because it is about bringing a very, very major medical process to Australia where the creators would set up in Australia as the Southern Hemisphere capital. But we’ll work with them to encourage them to come as soon as we possibly can.”

The minister acknowledged that CAR T-cell therapies could cost as much as $500,000 per patient, but said as a one-off treatment this may be a “very good investment” as opposed to a medicine which might cost up to $250,000 a year for five to ten years.

“It’s the right economic thing to do, but above all else, it’s the right human thing to do. And to get these outcomes, I think this is the start of a wonderful new world of treatment.

“We have a partnership between the Commonwealth and the states to ensure that if this therapy is approved, the patients that need it can get it. And that ultimately means that patients with leukaemia now, and potentially in the future with lymphoma and melanoma, not just a treatment, but a cure,” he said.

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