Cancer victim on ‘final option’ for treatment set to fork out over $60k for PBS listed drug

Mar 18, 2024

BATTLING cancer for more than a decade, Mission Beach woman Lisa Laird is expected to be out of pocket for more than $60,000 unless she becomes eligible to access medication already listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Ms Laird is no stranger to the fight – both for her own health and the battle to include medication on the PBS. Now in her 50s, Ms Laird was first diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s and has endured a lengthy battle of “living with the disease”.

Just six years ago, Ms Laird along with Katter’s Australian Party MP Bob Katter and Breast Cancer Network Australia successfully fought to have Palbociclib included on the PBS. [1]

However, with the cancer spreading to her bones, lungs, and stomach, Ms Laird is now on her “final option for treatment” – a drug called trastuzumab deruxtecan (Enhertu) – at about $13,000 per treatment.

While the drug received PBS approval in December 2023, Ms Laird herself is not eligible. The PBS provides Enhertu to patients diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer, but not patients with HER2-negative – which is where Ms Laird falls.

“In simple terms, it’s like the different blood types we all have, and just because mine is different, I’m not eligible,” Ms Laird said.

“Is my life worthless to someone else, what’s the difference?”

Ms Laird is expected to undergo at least five treatments of Enhertu, which at about $13,000 each, would set her back over $60,000.

The former Feluga tree plantation owner who can no longer work said she was appreciative of her generous family who were helping with financial support towards the cost of treatment.

“My family have had to rally together and come up with the amount. And if you don’t have family, what choice do you have?

“I’ve heard of stories of other ladies giving up work and then using retirement money or their superannuation. Some have had to sell their cars.”

Ms Laird and Mr Katter wrote to the Federal Health Minister in January this year pleading for Enhertu to be made available to patients with HER2-negative breast cancer. The Minister acknowledged Ms Laird’s difficulties, however did not state his intentions of advocating for the drug to be made eligible for HER2-negative patients.

Instead, he referred to the PBS Committee and stated at its March 2024 meeting wit would again consider listing Enhertu for HER2-negative patients on the PBS.

It is understood the outcome of that meeting will be made available on April 26, 2024.

Mr Katter said his office had also made efforts to call on the drug’s manufacturer AstraZeneca to request PBS inclusion of Enhertu for HER2-negative patients.

“Lisa was in this precarious position about six years ago and we got a generous reaction out of the government and we are determined to achieve the same with this new development,” Mr Katter said while referring to the inclusion of Palbociclib on the PBS in 2018.

“In most cases there is an issue of an absolutely outrageous charge being put on by a drug company that might have that ‘miracle drug’ and quite rightly the PBS tries to negotiate down.

“And if you’re the government looking for the money to subsidise this drug – well there’s a long questionable list. We just wasted $400m on a Yes-No vote, or, $40bn was spent on patrol boats that can’t defend this nation.

“Meanwhile we’ve got a matter of life and death here, and if we don’t get a solution, there will  be someone’s ‘death’ in Canberra if we don’t succeed with this, I can assure you that.”

Pictured: Kennedy MP Bob Katter with Mission Beach cancer patient Lisa Laird.