National | Cancer

Petition to stop ban on imports of unfunded cancer drugs gains momentum

A petition to stop the banning of imports of cancer drugs from overseas by patients, is gaining momentum.

The petition was set up by Te Tai Rāwhiti woman Theresa Zame, and backed by prominent cancer patient rights advocate Malcolm Mulholland.

"I got the idea for the petition because I was trying to get hold of members of Parliament and I was having no luck," Zame says.

So far the petition has received more than 2000 signatures.

"It's tracking well, considering it's just a mum in Gizzy," she told LDR.

What’s in dispute is the controversial Therapeutic Products Bill, which is being championed by Health minister Ayesha Verrall. The bill would outlaw patients importing unfunded cancer medication.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Chair of Patient Voice Aotearoa Malcolm Mulholland says the Therapeutic Products Bill is "badly drafted", and the government is trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist. Photo / Mike Scott / NZME

Zame says that would have a "devastating effect" on her chances of survival.

A humanitarian group is currently sourcing Tagrix for her, a non-small-cell lung carcinomas treatment available from Bangladesh.

Attack on generics

Tagrix is a generic preparation of the drug Osimertinib, sold under the brand name Tagrisso.

There has been pressure on Aotearoa in the past to change its laws to prevent generic pharmaceuticals. Specifically, the United States has been a vocal advocate for stricter intellectual property rights for pharmaceuticals in New Zealand, claiming that the country's law are inadequate and that they undermine incentives for innovation and research in the pharmaceutical industry.

Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall has been skirting criticism of the controversial Therapeutic Products Bill saying it would be inappropriate to comment while it is before a select committee. Photo / Supplied

During the implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), advocates were staunchly opposed to provisions on intellectual property rights for pharmaceuticals.

The United States, in particular, was pushing for IP protections that would delay the entry of generic pharmaceuticals into the market, giving brand-name drug manufacturers a longer period of exclusivity and higher profits.

The proposed law isn't just being attacked for a perceived assault on generics, it's also been slammed for extracts which attempt to regulate rongoā Māori, something which a prominent legal professor told is 'riding roughshod over rangatiratanga'.

Mulholland, chair of Patient Voice Aotearoa has branded the current bill "badly drafted".

Protection for a non-existent problem - Mulholland

He told LDR the government claims it’s trying to prevent patients from Aotearoa receiving medications that were not right for them, even though there was no evidence to suggest that was an issue.

"The government isn't aware of the consequences of what it is it's proposing," Mulholland told LDR.

Zame and Mulholland will deliver the petition on a hīkoi to Parliament on June 7.

Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa woman Theresa Zame, is concerned about the effects changes to New Zealand’s medicine laws could have on her cancer treatment. She will deliver a petition to Parliament on June, 7. Photo / Matthew Rosenberg / LDR

An open letter supported by other groups concerned about the proposed changes will also be handed over by Mulholland, whose wife Wiki Mulholland died while fighting for better cancer drug access in 2021.

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall has declined to comment, claiming it would be inappropriate while Parliament's health committee considers it.

In June, the Ministry of Health will report on submissions and recommend amendments.