10 October 2014



The Multiple Sclerosis Society of New Zealand (MSNZ) is delighted by PHARMAC’s announcement today that it will fund two new treatments for Multiple Sclerosis.

After years of funding submissions, culminating in a campaign this year led by MSNZ, PHARMAC has approved funding for two new treatments and increased access to those currently funded for New Zealander’s diagnosed with relapsing remitting forms of Multiple Sclerosis.

Biogen Idec’s Natalizumab (trading as Tysabri) and Novartis’ Fingolimod (Gilenya) will be funded from 1 November 2014. PHARMAC has also approved increased access to currently-funded treatments in today’s announcement.

“This is a big step forward for people with Multiple Sclerosis in New Zealand,” said MSNZ Vice President Neil Woodhams. “It means that many of those living with MS will no longer be subjected to a level of disability before their treatment is approved. This is momentous day for thousands of people living with a potentially manageable form of MS and their families. The majority of these people are young women, many of whom are mothers. Earlier access to treatments has shown to greatly reduce relapse rates and halt disease progression.

“New Zealanders have waited eight years longer than Australians to be able to access these treatments. If we can act quickly to support people with MS so that they can access the best first-line treatments then they can remain in the workplace, manage their own lives and care for their families. MSNZ’s campaign is based on an issue of fairness and equality of access. Access to treatment wherever you are in New Zealand is a democratic right.”

Strong concerns had been expressed to MSNZ that DHBs do not currently have the necessary access to resources to manage the changes these new treatments will bring about, says Woodhams. “Many of our DHBs are already understaffed. Canterbury DHB for example does not even have an in-hospital MS Nurse, despite having more than 400 people within its catchment area who are diagnosed with MS. “Nursing support is provided by our MS Society in the region, but this does come at a cost to the community and funding for these services is becoming increasingly hard to secure.”

“We are glad to see that PHARMAC have heeded our concerns and has not ignored the importance of the current treatments remaining available for use, appreciating a person’s individual clinical situation. This is particularly important for those out of the major cities where neurology services are limited. By also allowing general physicians to apply for MS treatments PHARMAC have taken a more person-centred approach making treatments more accessible and not restricted.

“It has been heart-breaking to hear repeated stories of people having to become disabled before they are approved for treatment. Thankfully we are now heading in a more positive direction.”

Further information about PHARMAC's decision, the criteria for funding and answers to questions made in submissions to the August Proposal can be found at


August 2014

Have your say!

PHARMAC Consultation on MS Treatments Open!

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of New Zealand (MSNZ) welcomes PHARMAC’s release of a consultation document on Thursday that proposes Natalizumab (Tysabri)and Fingolimod (Gilenya) as potential new first-line treatments for relapsing, remitting forms of MS.

PHARMAC is seeking feedback on a funding proposal involving five treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS), including these two new treatments. It is also seeking feedback on potential changes to the currently funded treatments Avonex, Betaferon and Copaxone.

In February, PTAC (the Pharmaceutical Technical Advisory Committee) recommended to PHARMAC that these new treatments be funded as new first-line treatments.

“It has been a long process to get to this point but PHARMAC’s announcement is a positive step,” says MSNZ spokesman Neil Woodhams. “Relapsing Remitting MS is one of four types of MS, affecting the highest percentage of patients. These new treatments, if accepted by PHARMAC, will be given as soon after diagnosis as possible, to patients fitting within the criteria. This is a great start for all those who will benefit from these treatments.”

Subject to a positive outcome from its consultation process, PHARMAC has suggested that Natalizumab and Fingolimod could be listed on the Hospital Medications List by 1 November 2014 and that changes to the restrictions around access to treatments that are currently funded could also be made by that date.

“This is not the end of the process,” says Mr Woodhams. “The next stage of consultation begins today. We recommend that interested parties read the consultation documents carefully as there are restrictions on the access to these treatments and changes that will be made to the currently-funded treatments.”

 Submissions on PHARMAC’s consultation document close on 29 August, 2014.

“MSNZ would like to thank everyone involved in the Patients’ Steering Group, the MS Community, neurologists and supporters who have helped to highlight the importance of funding these new first-line treatments. MSNZ has been overwhelmed with the support and commitment shown to date and we urge supporters to maintain their level of engagement during the next stage of the process and beyond.”

Consultation Documents

More information about the consultation documents:

For more information visit the PHARMAC website:

Details of the proposal, including proposed funding access criteria, and some background information can be found at:

Please note: The fingolimod component of this proposal is dependent on a multi-product provisional agreement with Novartis, for a number of other products including fingolimod, being approved. PHARMAC are consulting on the Novartis multiproduct proposal separately, see PHARMAC’s website at:

Current Drug Treatments

Although there is still no cure for MS, there are various drug treatments available to modify the disease course, treat relapses, manage symptoms and improve function and safety. Most people newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) are interested in learning as much as possible about the types of treatments that are available.

This information about the disease-modifying therapies for MS (DMTs)—also known as Disease Modifying Drugs (DMDs) —treatments that have been shown to alter the underlying course of MS by reducing the number and severity of relapses. DMDs differ from the other drugs you may be prescribed to manage and treat particular symptoms of your MS which do not have any effect on the disease course.

While you may have been alarmed to hear that these medications require self-injection, we hope that this information will allay some of your fears and provide you with the information you need to be an informed partner in making treatment decisions with your doctor. Whilst we cannot tell you which medication is best for you, it provides the basic information you need to talk comfortably with your neurologist and GP.

The care and treatment of MS has entered a new and exciting phase. We now have the means to modify the course of the disease. Original studies and subsequent research trials have consistently demonstrated benefits. The DMDs used in New Zealand for treating MS relapses are Avonex®, Betaferon® and Copaxone®. The first two of these are known as "beta interferons".

Following careful review of the published data concerning the three medications for relapsing-remitting MS (Betaferon®Avonex® and Copaxone®), and based upon considerable clinical experience with these agents over some years, it is now generally recommended that:

  • Treatment with one of these drugs should be initiated as soon as possible following a definite diagnosis of MS and determination of a relapsing-remitting course; and that
  • Treatment be continued indefinitely, unless there is clear lack of benefit, intolerable side effects, or a better treatment becomes available.

With these treatment options comes the opportunity to educate yourself and to participate with your doctor in the decision-making process. Your best sources of additional information about these treatments are your neurologist, GP, the MS Society and the pharmaceutical companies that distribute them.