OPDIVO cancer drug now on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme

Health scare: OPDIVO saved Fred Salome's life. The same drug has been credited with saving the life of AFL star Jarryd Roughead last year after he was diagnosed with melanoma. It's now on the PBS list. Picture: Geoff Jones

Health scare: OPDIVO saved Fred Salome's life. The same drug has been credited with saving the life of AFL star Jarryd Roughead last year after he was diagnosed with melanoma. It's now on the PBS list. Picture: Geoff Jones

Fred Salome was staring at a death sentence two years ago.

The Northmead resident was told he had inoperable stage four metastatic kidney cancer following a routine scan. After his first cancer scare in 2012, the cancer returned three years later, which spread to his pancreas and other organs.

“The prognosis wasn’t good, I was given a maximum of five years,” he said.

Mr Salome’s oncologist helped get him into a Westmead Hospital clinical trial for OPDIVO (nivolumab), a revolutionary new immunotherapy drug.  It extends and improves quality of life for patients and has no side affects, unlike chemotherapy.

“After six months, it was showing positive improvement and after 16 months, they couldn’t see the tumour at all, which continues to show no signs,” he said.

“It’s a good example of what science can do.”

Other advanced kidney cancer patients can now access the drug after federal Health Minister Greg Hunt recently added it to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). OPDIVO is also PBS listed for melanoma and lung cancer and will benefit more than 4500 Australians each year.

The subsidised drug means patients pay $38.80 per treatment, or $6.30 with a concession card. Until now, patients have had to fork out about $5000 a course, which adds up to more than $130,000 per year. At a $1.1 billion cost to the government, it’s one of the biggest ever listings on the PBS.

“I was extremely lucky to get on the trial,” Mr Salome, 65, said. “It’s terrific news for other people who couldn’t access the drug before. Kidney cancer is a nasty cancer that kills people.” 

The semi-retired industrial chemist continues to receive OPDIVO infusions on a fortnightly basis and has scans every three months.

“I don’t know what would happen if I stop taking it,” Mr Salome said. “ I can’t allow myself to say it’s gone for good but I’ve now got a future. A few years ago, I couldn’t make any plans beyond 12 months into the future. Now, I can control my life and do some travelling. I’ve always been pragmatic about life and consider this as a narrow escape.”

He gave hope to others facing a bleak future. “Find a good oncologist and know that there are options.”

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