The National Cancer Plan – CEO Perspective

9 October 2019 -

With the introduction of the new Cancer Agency, the recently appointed head Professor Diana Sarfati outlined her 3 funding priorities; needless to say there was a clear indication of what was not of immediate concern. “One thing not on that priority wish list is more money for the stream of high-cost, life-prolonging drugs for terminal cancer, which prompt patient petitions and marches to Parliament.”

Here’s the considered response from Peter Fergusson, CEO of Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand.

“The challenge facing blood cancer as we consult and develop a National Cancer Plan is ensuring that many of the common assumptions relating to solid tumour cancers are not automatically applied or assumed to be appropriate for blood cancers by health policy decision-makers. The cause of blood cancers is not currently known, and effective screening programmes do not exist.

This key difference of blood cancers from solid tumours means that screening programs and preventative measures to reduce the incidence of these cancers is not available.Hence the resources to manage blood cancers need to be directed at accurate diagnosis, treatments and treatment outcome surveillance and monitoring.

Unfortunately, blood cancer data is often captured by disease type, which does not reflect the broader incidence of blood cancers and subsequent burden to the health system.

This inevitably leads to health policy decision-makers also under-estimating the impact and real cost to both the health system, individuals and their families.

Blood cancers (combined data) are our fifth most common group of cancers affecting all age groups. Blood cancer has the second-highest mortality rates just behind lung cancer).

Blood cancers (more-so than most another cancer group) have a heavy reliance on access to drug treatments such as systemic therapies including cytotoxic chemotherapy, antibody therapy, targeted agents and immunotherapy.

Drug development is occurring extremely fast, and new therapies are being proven in clinical trials and approved in overseas regulatory environments at an increasing pace.

Surgery and radiation, the most common tools for treating solid tumour cancers, are less likely to affect blood cancer patients’ survival, which relies heavily on access to drug regimens and stem cell transplantation.

Blood Cancer patients, understandably, have a keen interest in Pharmac budget levels and approvals – because unlike most other Cancers – this is often their only lifeline to survival. In many instances, these treatments can cure or render a condition chronic, rather than becoming fatal.

Access to these treatments is literally a matter of life or death for many blood cancer patients and their families.”

Learn more about our CEO Peter Fergusson here.