Pharmaceutical News
NHI suggests a trial scheme for immunotherapy

Reported by Lee Shu-Jen from Taipei

Two doctors specializing in immunotherapies for cancers won this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine, reaching a mile stone in cancer treatment. In Taiwan, the immunotherapy for treating melanoma has entered the NHI Benefit Scheme; and the immunotherapies for treating advanced lung cancer may soon be covered.  Dr Lee Po-Chang, Director General of the NHIA, expressed that the NHIA has started the negotiation process with drug companies, trying to persuade drug companies into a trial scheme before having the drugs been listed in the NHI Benefit Scheme.

Dr Lee Po-Chang pointed out that drug companies should take it as part of their social responsibilities by sharing the NHI financial risk.  Immunotherapies are expensive. In the proposal, the NHIA suggests that drug companies should provide a 3-month free trial for patients and the NHI would take care from the 4th month of those who respond well to the therapy.  By doing so, the NHIA could spend the money more effectively and efficiently.

The NHI expert meeting decided recently to cover the immunotherapies for melanoma, head and neck cancer, advanced lung cancer and lymphoma.  The NHI will call another expert meeting to discuss how to increase cancer patients’ access to immunotherapies with a mere NT$1.2 billion annual budget for new drugs.

However, there are different opinions.  Some experts opposed the 3-month free trial proposal.  They argued that medication should be prescribed more precisely.  Some doctors suggested that immunotherapy should be provided for patients at earlier stages, actually the sooner the better.   They can be used concomitantly with chemotherapies or target therapies.  There are also some discussions about the length of the NHI-reimbursed immunotherapies.  If cancers eventually become a chronic condition, would the NHI continue to provide the treatment?

Dr Lee said that experts concern about treatment effect; however, the NHIA has to consider the financial impact.  He will not shy away from his duty, and will soon call a meeting to solve this dilemma, said Dr Lee.

【2018-10-03/ United Evening News】