Newstalk
Newstalk

16.02 27 Nov 2018


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The Government may fund a trial to make the cervical cancer drug Pembrolizumab available to all women in Ireland who need it.

The State has offered to fund the expensive drug - often referred to as Pembro - for the 221 women affected by the Cervical Check crisis.

However, campaigner Vicky Phelan - whose legal action brought the Cervical Check scandal to public attention - says the treatment should be available to all women who need it.

She says that the drug has helped reduce the size of her tumours and helped improve her quality of life.

Labour Leader Brendan Howlin raised the issue during Leaders' Questions this afternoon.

He argued that funding for Pembro should be available to all who need it, not just the women impacted by the Cervical Check controversy - suggesting it is not fair to provide a treatment to some patients but not to others.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says the Government is looking into ways to make the drug more accessible to those who need it, and to resolve the current inequality.

He explained: "I accept that it's something that we need to try and resolve... perhaps by means of a trial.

"Perhaps by means of what is done in other countries but is often resisted by pharmaceutical companies in this country - a payment by results system, whereby the reimbursement happens if the medicine happens to work."

He added: "We have certainly have made contact with Merck Sharp & Dohme about this in the past, and we will renew our contacts in that regard."

However, he highlighted that the drug is not yet licenced by the EU for use in treating cervical cancer - creating a 'difficulty' in introducing full access for patients.

Labour's Alan Kelly observed: "Currently, the drug is not on clinical trial, it is off licence. Leading Irish oncologists have requested that Pembro be made available on trial or a managed access scheme or for some method to be found so that it can be provided to cancer patients.

"The Minister needs to give legal clarity on the availability of the Pembro and give a timeline as to when this drug will be available to more patients - and he needs to do that immediately."


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