Adam fights on with $300,000 ‘miracle’ cancer drug
DOCTORS are reluctant to label any cancer medicine a miracle cure but, for one Murwillumbah family, that is precisely what Keytruda is.
The Argus family was the first on the Tweed to have access to Keytruda - listed with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme on September 1.
It followed the shock diagnosis for 28-year-old Adam of fourth-stage melanoma.
With no "primary site" for the melanoma, like an unusual mole, the tradie's disease was discovered following a tumble during a backyard cricket game.
"I took a knock and it unusually really hurt," he said.
A scan revealed 12 of 42 nodes near his armpit where the melanoma had spread, with the cancer also attacking Mr Argus's liver and lungs.
Before Keytruda's PBS listing, Yervoy was the frontline drug for advanced cancer, and it had failed for Mr Argus. The father-of-two had months to live.
"They said he might not make it to see our daughter born," his wife Donna said.
In a last-ditch effort, the Princess Alexandra Hospital secured the immuno-therapy Keytruda from the pharmaceutical company for free - an offer on compassionate grounds only extended to 50 people in Australia.
Mr Argus is several months into a two-year $300,000 treatment plan using the drug, which is effective for one-third of those treated, compared to only 12% with other drugs.
Keytruda works by targeting a protein on the surface of immune cells that stops them from attacking the melanoma cells.
Diet and lifestyle changes had to be made for Mr Argus's body to fight and expel the melanoma. He no longer drinks "a couple of Bundys a day", no longer has take-away or processed sugar.
"He does things for his own health, but it's the drug that's kept him alive - I'm so sure of it," Mrs Argus said.
Mr Argus's lungs are clear and tumours in the liver, abdomen and chest are all shrinking. His only side effect is a flu-like cough and occasional rash.
The family says they are blessed for Mr Argus to have been present for the homebirth of baby Jovie 11 weeks ago.
"Now when I look at him with her - to look at them interact, it just melts me every time," Mrs Argus said.
Tweed Hospital's clinical leader of cancer care, Professor Ehtesham Abdi, welcomed the drug's addition to the PBS and has started treating two patients with Keytruda.
"Melanoma is a big-time problem on the Tweed," Dr Abdi said.
The incidence of melanoma in Northern NSW is the highest in the state.
Australia has the highest rate of melanoma or skin cancer in the world and is one of the first countries to get access to Keytruda, costing the Federal Government $57 million.
General patients will pay $37.70 a treatment, and concessional patients just $6.10 for the IV-administered drug which uses the immune system to fight melanoma.
There are 100 cancer-treating medicines available through PBS, costing the government $1.5b a year.