UPDATE : Wednesday, August 5, 2020
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Review of cancer drug benefits delayed amid social distancing
  • By Kim Yun-mi
  • Published 2020.04.08 13:46
  • Updated 2020.04.08 16:17
  • comments 0

The government has postponed the health authorities’ meeting for a review of anticancer drugs’ benefits initially scheduled for Wednesday to minimize the risk of the spread of the new coronavirus in a face-to-face meeting.

The Health and Insurance Review and Assessment Service (HIRA) said it had planned to hold the deliberation of the Review Committee for Cancer Diseases in late February but put off the schedule to Wednesday. The review committee consists of 43 cancer experts at various medical institutions.

However, the ongoing practice of social distancing made the HIRA push back the schedule one more time to about two weeks later.

Health officials were reportedly struggling to adjust the schedule for the face-to-face meeting.

The deliberation of the cancer disease review committee is usually conducted through a vis-à-vis meeting. Still, the HIRA said it could review the drugs through paperwork given the serious impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, pharmaceutical and medical industry officials said the paper-based deliberation would not be feasible considering the significance of anticancer drugs waiting for the nod for health insurance benefits.

Key immunotherapies seeking benefits are MSD’s Keytruda (ingredient: pembrolizumab) and BMS’ Opdivo (nivolumab).

MSD and BMS could not reach sub-agreements with the Ministry of Health and Welfare last year and applied for benefits for the two drugs this year again.

At the upcoming review meeting, the committee members will discuss whether to give benefit to AstraZeneca’s Tagrisso (osimertinib) as the first-line treatment for patients with non-small cell lung cancer with EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) mutation.

Compared to first- and second-generation EGFR-tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) agents, Tagrisso is reportedly more effective in lung cancer patients with brain metastases, industry officials said. Therefore, Tagrisso needs benefit as the first-line therapy for such patients, they said.

Roche’s Tecentriq (atezolizumab) is also waiting for the HIRA’s review for benefit.

After the HIRA put off the deliberation of the review committee twice, experts in the medical community said the authorities should continue discussions to treat cancer patients despite the COVID-19 crisis.

For cancer patients, infection with COVID-19 could be fatal, they noted.

An analysis report on Italy’s COVID-19 patients published in The Lancet in March showed that 20 percent of patients who died from COVID-19 had cancer.


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