But patients with advanced lung and kidney tumours or melanoma now have more of a fighting chance.
Touted as a ‘miracle drug’, the immunotherapy medication “Opdivo” has just been listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
The Federal Health Minister made the announcement, explaining that the PBS listing slashes the price from around $5000 a dose to less than $40.
It will cost the Commonwealth around a billion dollars – but Minister Greg Hunt said it was worth every cent.
“Normally these drugs would cost $130 thousand a year, just simply beyond the reach of virtually every Australian,” Mr Hunt said today.
Opdivo, otherwise known as “nivolumab”, is currently prescribed as a last resort treatment for advanced cancers of the lungs, renal system or melanomas.
AFL player Jarryd Roughead took Opdivo in combination with other immunotherapy medications to treat his melanoma.
The Hawthorn captain is now fit and healthy enough to take to the field this footy season.
Melbourne grandfather Greg McLeod also credits the drug with extending his life.
When the 68-year-old was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer in early 2015, his family didn't think he would live to see Christmas.
His wife Judy gathered the grandchildren for a family photo, fearing the worst.
“I was going to die. There was no doubt about that. I mean the tumour had continued to grow,” Mr McLeod said.
Associate Professor Thomas John’s decision to treat Mr McLeod with Opdivo has definitely prolonged his patient’s life.
“The result has been, as far as I'm concerned, quite spectacular,” Mr McLeod said.
Assc. Prof. John said Opdivo has “revolutionised cancer treatments across the board.”