An Australian Man With Multiple Myeloma Just Lost Access to The Drug That Was Helping Him

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According to a story from the Canberra Times, Dan Gaffney, resident of the Blue Mountains in Australia, was denied access to a treatment that was helping to extend his life and relieve symptoms of multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer that affects plasma cells, which are normally responsible for the production of antibodies. The cause of this type of cancer is unknown. The most common symptom of multiple myeloma is bone pain. Sufferers may also develop neurological symptoms, are more vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia, and may also experience kidney failure and anemia. Treatment typically involves several bouts of chemotherapy, though allogeneic stem cell transplantation has the potential to cure multiple myeloma. This procedure has only been used in a small number of patients. This type of cancer very commonly relapses, and maintenance therapy after treatment is a common measure taken in an attempt to avoid it. The prognosis for multiple myeloma is quite poor; five year survival rate stands at only 35 percent on average. To learn more about this type of cancer, click here.

Dan was finding success with a chemotherapy drug called Velcade, which had managed to improve his multiple myeloma. The treatment also made the bone pain that is common in multiple myeloma disappear. Remarkably, Dan has experienced minimal treatment side effects with Velcade, even after 11 rounds of treatment. Dan is 55 years old. After completing his 11th round of chemotherapy with Velcade, he found that his access to the drug was abruptly cut off. This is due to the fact that Velcade is only approved for a maximum of 11 treatments under the guidelines of Australian Medicare.

It should be possible for him to receive more Velcade as long as he can prove that his cancer has worsened since he stopped taking it. According to Dan, it definitely has, but after his doctors applied for a new batch of Velcade, the application was mysteriously rejected. Medicare responded by saying approval was only possible if Dan’s cancer worsened. For Dan, pain has returned often keeping him awake long into the night. Other chemotherapy drugs have failed to stop his multiple myeloma. A second appeal to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Advisory Committee (PBAC) also was rejected.

This situation highlights the inflexibility of the Australian health system, but it is worth mentioning that Velcade restrictions were recommended after extensive trials; very few patients react as well to the treatment as Dan has, and Velcade does not slow the spread of cancer in some patients. Still, the fact remains that a rare disease patient has been denied access to a treatment that was helping keep him alive, and for Dan Gaffney, it doesn’t appear that the situation will change any time soon.


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