Find out more about KEYTRUDA and how to access it

Access to KEYTRUDA

Any new medicine or treatment in New Zealand needs to be ‘registered’ by Medsafe. Medsafe is an arm of the Ministry of Health who review data on all medicines in New Zealand to ensure they have been well researched and are effective for the treatment they are intended for. Once a medicine has received registration, ‘funding’ can then be applied for, which means the cost of the treatment is fully or partially subsidised by the Government. The funding part of the process is the responsibility of a government department called PHARMAC.


Overview of KEYTRUDA registration and funding in New Zealand

How KEYTRUDA works

Accessing KEYTRUDA when your treatment is not fully funded

If your oncologist says that KEYTRUDA treatment is right for you, but your type of cancer doesn’t qualify for PHARMAC funding, here are some options you can explore for funding:

  • Health insurance: Around 1.4 million New Zealanders have health insurance, which is approximately 30% of the population. If you have health insurance, check with your provider to find out if any of your cancer care is covered.
  • Life insurance or trauma cover: Often life insurance and trauma cover policies will provide some or all of the cost of cancer treatment, so it is worth checking with your provider about what cover you have.
  • KiwiSaver: If you suffer a serious illness (permanent and total disability or risk of death) you can withdraw all KiwiSaver money. You will need to supply medical evidence to your KiwiSaver provider’s trustee to support the application for withdrawal. See KiwiSaver for more details.
  • ACC: If you have had a previous misdiagnosis ('treatment injury'), delayed diagnosis or probable occupational exposure, ACC may be an option for providing funding for KEYTRUDA.
  • Crowd funding: Some patients have raised money for treatments through crowd funding websites such as Givealittle.
  • Reverse mortgages: Some banks offer reverse mortgages against property to allow New Zealanders to free up equity to use when needed.
  • Private Providers: KEYTRUDA is not funded in New Zealand for all of its uses. You may need to see a private provider to have KEYTRUDA prescribed for any cancer type other than melanoma. A list of private cancer care centres across New Zealand is available here.
  • Clinical trials: KEYTRUDA is being studied across more than 30 types of cancer and more than 4,000 patients are estimated to be enrolled in these trials. Talk to your doctor about your eligibility for a current clinical trial.
    • If you are asked to take part in a clinical trial, make sure that you fully understand the reasons for the trial and what it means for your treatment.
    • In clinical trials, people’s health and progress are carefully monitored.
    • If you decide to join a randomised clinical trial, you will be given either the best existing treatment or a promising new treatment.
    • If you do join a clinical trial, you have the right to withdraw at any time.
  • Patient Programmes: Some pharmaceutical companies run programmes to help support patients with access and funding to newer, innovative treatments. Talk to your doctor to see if there are any current programmes suitable for you or a family member.

What can you do to improve funding for KEYTRUDA?

If you feel funding for KEYTRUDA should be broadened, you can help support yourself, friends or family by making a funding application to PHARMAC. Anyone can make a submission for the funding of a medicine by completing the online form available at the PHARMAC website. You can also talk to your local MP about KEYTRUDA funding.

Other information about the cost of KEYTRUDA treatment

When receiving treatment privately, the cost of KEYTRUDA is just one part of the total costs. Cost components can also include: courier to transport KEYTRUDA, making KEYTRUDA up into a bag ready for infusion, dispensing fee, clinic time and administration fees. Other charges may also apply.

The number of vials you need will depend on your weight and how long you are on treatment. KEYTRUDA is given via an infusion every three weeks.

Find out more


The immune system and cancer


KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab) 50mg powder for infusion
KEYTRUDA is a Prescription Only Medicine Use: KEYTRUDA is used:
  • in the treatment of melanoma which cannot be removed by surgery alone or when it has spread to multiple sites in the body.
  • in the treatment of a kind of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
  • in the treatment of classical Hodgkin Lymphoma (cHL)
  • in the treatment of urothelial carcinoma, including bladder cancer
  • in the treatment of a kind of head and neck cancer called head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC)

Side effects: Immune-mediated side effects including inflammation of the lungs, colon, liver, kidneys, pituitary gland, brain, eye, muscles, nervous system, pancreas, and heart, thyroid disorders, type 1 diabetes mellitus. Severe skin reactions including Steven-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis. Severe infusion reactions including hypersensitivity and anaphylaxis. Transplant recipients: rejection of a transplanted organ, graft-versus-host-disease (in people with a bone marrow transplant using donor cells). Very common side effects include diarrhea, nausea, itching, rash, joint pain, back pain, feeling tired, cough, patches of discoloured skin, stomach pain, decreased levels of sodium in blood. Tiredness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, shortness of breath, rash, itching, headache, hair loss, and, infections of the upper respiratory tract were reported when given in combination with chemotherapy. You may experience more than one side effect at the same time.

All medicines have risks and benefits. Talk to your doctor to see if KEYTRUDA is right for you. KEYTRUDA is a funded medicine for melanoma patients– restrictions apply. KEYTRUDA is an unfunded medicine for NSCLC, HNSCC, cHL and urothelial carcinoma patients. Ask your health professional the cost of the medicine and any other medical fees that may apply. Use only as directed and if symptoms continue or you have side effects, see your doctor, pharmacist, or health professional.

Based on data sheet prepared 17 July 2018. Marketed by: Merck Sharp & Dohme (New Zealand) Limited, Newmarket, Auckland. . For additional product information, consult the Consumer Medicine Information (CMI), available on request, phone 0800 500 673 or refer to the Medsafe website

This site is intended for New Zealand residents.

References to support this are available on request.

MSD recommends people always seek the medical advice of their healthcare professional.

Copyright © 2018 Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, New Jersey, USA. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2018 Merck Sharp & Dohme (New Zealand) Limited. Level 3, 123 Carlton Gore Road, Newmarket, Auckland. All rights reserved.

ONCO-1273154-0000 First Issued November 2017 TAPS NA10076 essence MSD8360

Updated: October 2018