The federal government has announced a new immunotherapy treatment for advanced melanoma patients has been added to PBS, significantly reducing the cost of the life-saving treatment.

Australians suffering from recurrent melanoma have been offered a huge boost in treatment and financial support by the federal government with a cutting-edge drug added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Every year 20,000 Australians receive a melanoma diagnosis, and every six hours a patient will die from skin cancer.

But Australians with recurrent melanoma will be given new hope when the cutting-edge treatment Opdualag is added to the PBS on February 1, making it available to patients at a government-subsidised price.

The treatment is a combination of immunotherapies designed to help the body fight cancer and in a country with some of the world’s highest melanoma rates, the new listing is expected to benefit about 940 patients each year.

Without the subsidy, these same patients could pay about $315,000 per course of treatment.

Health Minister Mark Butler says this new listing will expand options to those with skin cancer.

“Now this latest cutting-edge immunotherapy treatment Opdualag will be available for patients who have melanoma that is not able to be removed surgically or has become metastatic. This will give new hope to almost a thousand Australians each year and add a new tool to the growing toolbox of treatments for Australia’s national cancer,” he told reporters on Sunday.

“With cheaper medicines we are supporting millions of Australians with chronic, ongoing conditions so they don’t have to choose between health care and paying the bills.”

Melanoma Institute Australia co-medical director Georgina Long said preventing melanoma remained paramount.

Immunotherapy was changing the approach to treatment of patients with advanced melanoma, Professor Long said, but more needed to be done.

“While prevention is paramount in reducing the incidence of melanoma, those who develop advanced or metastatic melanoma should have access to all treatments that have demonstrated benefit in robust clinical trials.” – Professor Georgina Long AO

Since the beginning of 2023, Australians have saved more than $240 million after the government lowered the maximum cost of prescription medications listed on the PBS, the federal government says.

Australian Associated Press