Breast cancer survivor Elizabeth Ellis with her family. Photo: Supplied
Elizabeth Ellis puts up with severe tiredness, mouth ulcers, even the risk of lung damage caused by the daily regimen of medications that are keeping her alive.
“It’s quite a nasty range of side-effects,” the 33 year old mother says of the drugs she takes to fight breast cancer.
But taking breast cancer medications could become a little bit more positive for women like Mrs Ellis, with the launch of a radical new drug company that will funnel 100 per cent of its profits back into treatment and research.
Breast cancer survivor Elizabeth Ellis. Photo: Supplied
For Benefit Medicines is thought to be an Australian – and possibly world – first in that it aims to make a profit, but to use it entirely for social good.
“It’s like as a patient you can reclaim some of your power in a situation that can feel pretty hopeless,” Mrs Ellis said. “Personally, I really hope this company becomes a trail blazer for all the pharmaceutical industry”.
The organisation, to be launched on Wednesday, will take advantage of increasing numbers of drugs with expired patents, producing generic, cheaper, versions of life-saving cancer drugs.
Company co-director and pharmacologist Barry Frost worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 30 years when he decided he wanted to give something back.
“I realised that when these products go off patent there was a lot of money that would have been going back to these organisations, and I thought if you could just set up a generic product that profit could go to patients and research,” he said.
The company will start by providing two common breast cancer medications, Anastrozole and Letrozole, importing generic versions from overseas and selling them under the For Benefit brand. All profits will go to Breast Cancer Network Australia and the Breast Cancer Institute of Australia.
“Together these two products make up over 90 per cent of the aromatase inhibitor [a class of breast cancer drug] market, and providing doctors with two medications will mean they have a choice,” he said. “We estimate there are about 30,000 patients in Australia on these medications already”.
Dr Frost said he was inspired by a 2011 article arguing that more enterprises need to be created that were neither for profit or not-for profit, but were instead “for benefit”.
If successful, he will expand to other medications – directing those profits back towards the conditions they are treating.
Bruce Mann, the director of the Breast Service at Royal Melbourne and Royal Women’s Hospitals and a board member for both charities that will receive the funding, said it was an extremely exciting development in medicine.
“Taking the profits from selling vital breast cancer medications and sending half back to support women, through Breast Cancer Network Australia, and half to support clinical trials, through the Breast Cancer Institute, it’s just remarkable,” he said.
“Generic versions of medicines are the same chemicals, the same formulation that has been shown to be equally effective, but can often be produced at a lower cost – there is a very big market and a very profitable market in generic drugs”.
Mr Mann said patients could ask their doctors about being prescribed the For Benefit brand drugs, or doctors could suggest it.
“I had one patient who was more comfortable on her current prescription, but everyone else has been happy to move to the For Benefit Medicines prescription, and have come back and said they actually felt better about it,” he said.