'Never thought I would see the day'

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New Zealand patients have access to a new brain cancer therapy while Australians are still waiting.

PHARMAC approved GLIOLAN (aminolevulinic acid HCl) was funded in New Zealand from 1 June.

Specialised Therapeutics' GLIOLAN assists neurosurgeons to more completely remove malignant brain tumours (gliomas) by causing them to become fluorescent during surgery.

The therapy improves complete resection rates and almost doubles six-month progression free survival in patients with the most serious form of brain tumours, Glioblastoma Multiforme, or GBM. 

GLIOLAN is given to patients as a drink prior to surgery. The drug is preferentially taken up by the malignant tumour tissue. 

During surgery, a neurosurgical microscope fitted with a specialised blue operating light is used, which causes cancerous tissue containing the drug to glow fluorescent pink whilst normal brain tissue appears blue. This enables neurosurgeons to better visualise these tumours and more completely remove them, whilst sparing the neighbouring healthy brain tissue.

While New Zealand patient enjoy funded access to GLIOLAN, the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) rejected GLIOLAN last year. The committee accepted the procedure was associated with higher rates of complete resection, lower residual volume and progression-free survival, but challenged the nature of the trial used to establish that evidence. The trial was a single randomised controlled trial (RCT). 

According to MSAC, the outcomes "would only hold clinical relevance if associated with improvements in overall survival, which was not demonstrated."

The trial was the same used to secure approval and funding in New Zealand.

Speaking at a public hearing of the senate select committee into funding for research into cancers with low survival rates, Brain Tumour Alliance Australia co-founder Denis Strangman said he could not believe New Zealand funded GLIOLAN before Australia.

"I never thought I would see the kiwis ahead of Australia in the medical stakes," he said. "But they have put us to shame with their approval from the first of June for the subsidisation of GLIOLAN for glioblastoma patients."