Calls to fast-track cancer biomarker tests
Fast-tracking biomarker tests for the most common and deadliest types of cancer must be a priority for governments and researchers to ensure patients have access to life-saving medications, says the former chief of the Cancer Council.
A cancer biomarker is a molecule produced by the cancer or the body in response to the cancer that can be measured in blood, body fluid or tissues.
Testing for a biomarker can inform diagnosis and prognosis, as well as predict treatment response.
Professor Ian Olver says this approach has the potential to transform cancer treatment in Australia and is key to improving survival rates.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that biomarkers are the silver bullet that can speed up diagnosis and pinpoint the best treatment approach for the patient, maximising the response while minimising toxicities,” he said.
But Prof Olver, now the director of University of South Australia”s Sansom Institute, warns “bureaucratic red-tape” stands in the way of this new era of precision medicine.
A report released by University SA on Tuesday has found Australia lags behind other countries in making cancer medicines available that are matched to a biomarker test.
According to the report, a number of medicines paired to biomarkers are widely available in Canada, England and France, but not funded in Australia.
Prof Olver says cancer medicines matched to a biomarker test that requires a Medicare Item Number take on average twice as long to be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, compared to cancer medicines without a biomarker.
“Research and reimbursement of biomarker-driven treatments should be a top priority for government,” he said.
The report also found the majority of Australia’s oncologists agree finding the molecular footprint for six cancers that claim more than 23,000 Australian lives each year — prostate, breast, colorectal, pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer – should be the focus of biomarker research.
Currently, medicines are reviewed by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Committee and biomarkers are reviewed by the Medical Services Advisory Committee.
The report calls for the federal government to approve and reimburse medicines based on the molecular characteristics of the cancer rather than where the cancer originates in the body, and to align the reimbursement of medicines with their accompanying biomarkers, ideally handled by one agency.