Around 230,000 Australians with cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and other diseases will benefit from the new and amended listings of 50 drugs and technologies on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The government subsidy means that patients can now receive new and improved medicines which they might not otherwise have been able to afford, said Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton. 

The new listings include GlaxoSmithKline’s Rafinlar (dabrafenib), the first melanoma medicine that targets a genetic mutation present in about half of all melanoma cases. A new Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item will also be listed for the genetic testing necessary to determine eligibility for the drug’s use.

“The costs for both the medicine and the genetic test will be subsidised, and will benefit more than 800 Australians,” said Mr Dutton.

Other significant new listings include Pfizer’s pancreatic cancer drug Sutent (sutinib), which increases the survival rate of patients who cannot undergo surgery and will benefit around 50 patients, and Amgen’s Prolia (denosumab), already available on the PBS for the treatment of osteoporosis in women and now will also be supplied to treat osteoporosis in men, benefitting around 5,700 patients.

Price changes for a number of PBS medicines have also been approved, but patients will still only have to pay A$5.90 or no more than A$36.10 per prescription to be treated with PBS-listed medicines, said Mr Dutton.

Carol Bennett, chief executive of the Consumers Health Forum of Australia, said the new PBS listings are “a welcome early sign of the new government’s approach on medicines,” but she hoped the Minister would offset the cost of the new drugs “by ensuring taxpayers pay no more than is reasonable for previously-listed generic medicines.”

Australia pays A$1 billion a year more for prescription medicines than New Zealand and the UK, she said, and more than A$118.7 million in potential savings has been foregone since the government took office on September 17 “because we have only partly implemented a true price disclosure policy.”

“The benefits of the new medicines to treat patients with lethal diseases like melanoma and pancreatic cancer cannot be understated. But these new drugs are often expensive, so Australia must maximise the price savings available for older but still widely-used medicines,” said Ms Bennett.

All PBS listings and price changes are subject to final arrangements being met by the suppliers of the medicines.