Ian Blue 71yrs with grandchildren Imogen 5 and Jack 10. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
Ian Blue 71yrs with grandchildren Imogen 5 and Jack 10. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

New $55,000 prostate cancer drug made free

Australian men at risk of dying from prostate cancer will be given a breakthrough lifesaving drug for free from this week.

The $55,000-a-year treatment, called Nubeqa (darolutamide), has extended the life of men in a clinical trial by five years, but it was knocked back for a government subsidy on Friday.

Despite this, Bayer Australia has announced it will help nearly 2000 men with high-risk non-metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer, making Nubeqa available to at no cost.

"Given the significant medical need in this area, Bayer is committed to providing eligible patients with timely access to Nubeqa at no cost while the company continues to work with the PBAC (Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee) and the Department of Health to secure ongoing affordable access via the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme)," Bayer Pharmaceuticals ANZ General Manager, Ashraf Al-Ouf said.

The treatment works to starve cancer cells of the hormones they need to grow and divide.

It is taken as tablets alongside the traditional hormone-blocking therapy Zoladex.

More than 200,000 Australian men are living with prostate cancer.

Each year, approximately 20,000 men are diagnosed with the condition and 3300 lose their lives to the disease.

Around 1800 men have metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer and one in three of them will see their cancer spread to other parts of the body within two years.

Genesis Care Medical Oncologist Dr Laurence Krieger said once prostate cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, bones or to other parts of the body (stage 4), and is not responding to testosterone suppression alone, there is just a 36 per cent chance the patient will survive five years.


Ian Blue, 71, with their dog Buddy and his grandchildren Imogen, 5, and Jack, 10. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
Ian Blue, 71, with their dog Buddy and his grandchildren Imogen, 5, and Jack, 10. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

"Timely and compassionate access to this new treatment is fantastic news for men with telltale signs that the spread of cancer is imminent," said Dr Krieger.

Prostate cancer Foundation of Australia CEO, Professor Jeff Dunn AO welcomed Bayer's open access program and said it would give patients "better prospects for slowing down the spread of prostate cancer".

"Affordable access to lifesaving medicines is vital to worldwide cancer control and helps to reduce the burden of prostate cancer on men and the community," he said.

Once patients start receiving Nubeqa free of charge, it is expected greater pressure will be placed on the government to fully subsidise the drug.

Ian Blue was aged just 58 when he was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer in 2006 while working as a Professor of Nursing in Canada.

The South Australian grandfather had his prostate removed and underwent radiation therapy but by 2013 his Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) levels had alarmingly risen and he was given an androgen-deprivation therapy.

By 2015 his treatment was no longer working to control the cancer and his doctor put him on a clinical trial of Nubeqa.

"I started taking that drug not knowing whether it was the real thing or just a placebo. But within a matter of three months of taking the drug, I had my prostate specific antigen, my PSA taken and it dropped dramatically, fell off a cliff," he told News Corp.

His PSA levels have continued to drop progressively over the last five years.

Men given the treatment in the trial had their cancer suppressed for more than twice as long as those who were put on a dummy treatment.

Mr Blue said the treatment had allowed him to function normally, walk three kilometres a day and ride 50 kilometres a week and live long enough to meet his second grandchild.

Side effects of the treatment include hot flushes and fatigue, but Mr Blue said he was uncertain whether they were caused by Nubeqa or the other treatment he's taking, Zoladex.