Bowel Cancer Australia has issued a Patient Alert for Australia’s metastatic cancer patients: beginning on June 1st, 2021, the popular drug Avastin will be withdrawn from Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS) meaning it will no longer be available to metastatic bowel cancer patients as a subsidized treatment. Avastin is designed to block a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF. Normal cells make VEGF, but some cancer cells make too much VEGF.
The delisting of Avastin coincides with the anticipated listing on the PBS of a biosimilar competitor, removing any real choice for many patients and unfairly penalizing those who are unable to privately fund Avastin.
“The introduction of biosimilars was intended to increase treatment options, but reality suggests the impact will be the opposite” as Bowel Cancer Australia explains on their website:
If metastatic bowel cancer patients remain on Avastin after 1 June, they will have to pay for it. If they cannot afford it, they will be forced to switch to the biosimilar. There is currently no publicly available evidence to support the safety of nonmedical switching in patients with metastatic bowel cancer.
Policies that directly impact patients need to consider patient circumstances and preferences.
A 2016 ASBM survey of Australian physicians revealed that 90% considered it “very important” or “critical” that physicians and patients retain sole authority to choose which biologic the patient receives.
81% believed that “statistically robust comparative clinical trial data that show no increase in risk to safety and efficacy” should be required before a biosimilar could be substituted in place of its reference product.
Australian patients have organized an e-petition to Parliament, urging reversal of the decision. The petition reads, in part:
This drug is used by thousands of people diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic colorectal cancer and is instrumental to their treatment regime. June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month. Bowel cancer is fast becoming one of this countries biggest killers. Let’s not celebrate the month by taking away people’s medication!
Read Bowel Cancer Australia’s Patient Alert here.