The National Health Insurance (NHI) program could cover three new immunotherapy drugs by the end of June if their pricing can be negotiated, the National Health Insurance Administration said on Thursday.
The three drugs — Keytruda, Opdivo and Tecentriq — can treat at least eight types of cancer and would benefit 800 cancer patients who at present do not have access to drugs that treat their conditions, the agency said.
The medications would cost about NT$800 million (US$25.95 million) per year, it said.
The agency would negotiate the prices of the three drugs with their suppliers and would cover them once pricing is agreed upon, Medical Review and Pharmaceutical Benefits Division Director Tai Hsueh-yung (戴雪詠) said.
However, there is no guarantee that the negotiations would yield quick results: The agency last year announced that it was planning to cover Yervoy, a prescription medicine used to treat melanoma, but discussions on the drug’s price have yet to be concluded.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved the three drugs to treat melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma, urothelial carcinoma, squamous-cell carcinoma, renal cell carcinoma, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, liver cancer and gastric cancer.
However, due to limited NHI funding, not all people would have access to the new drugs, Tai said.
Only cancer patients for whom there are no drugs in Taiwan to effectively treat their condition or it is proven would have a better response to immunotherapy drugs would have access, Tai said.
Full details of the plan are expected to be announced next month, she said.
Immunotherapy drugs are not a panacea, because they do not work for everyone and could cause serious side effects, Tai said, adding that some NHI-covered targeted drugs are more effective for some people than others.
For example, Yervoy, the first immunotherapy drug used to treat melanoma, was found to be more effective than existing options in about 20 percent of recipients around the world, Tai added.
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