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20 Sep 2016

A synthetic hormone derived from the saliva of an endangered lizard has been listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), with the potential to improve the lives of thousands of type 2 diabetics.

Exanatide is a synthetic form of a hormone found in the venom of the Gila Monster, native to south western USA and parts of Mexico.

Gila poison has been found to stimulate insulin production, helping to prevent blood sugar levels both from dipping perilously low, or spiking and causing damage to the liver, kidneys, eyes and limbs.

First approved in the United States in 2005, exenatide is now available in Australia under the brand name Bydureon as a once-a-week injection using an injection pen.

Minister for Health, Sussan Ley, said Bydureon’s listing on the PBS meant as many as 20,000 type 2 diabetics would only have to inject themselves once a week, instead of twice a day.

Patients could avoid 13 injections a week and save more than $1600 each a year, Ms Ley said.

“As one of our most prominent chronic diseases, type 2 diabetes is placing a significant cost on the nation’s health and finances at nearly $1 billion a year,” Ms Ley said.

“According to Diabetes Australia, there were about 4000 amputations last year that could have been avoided with better daily management of a patient’s condition.

“Our hospitals also saw more than 900,000 diabetes-related admissions.

“Subsidising innovative medicines like these makes it easier for thousands of patients to keep on top of their diabetes and better manage their medication, while not only saving them time and money, but also the health system.”

The new treatment would particularly benefit Indigenous Australians, who were five times as likely to die from diabetes-related causes as non-Indigenous people, she said.

Diabetes Australia CEO, Associate Professor Greg Johnson, said that about 250,000 Australians with type 2 diabetes currently use insulin and other injections.

“For many people this means multiple injections every day,” A/ Professor Johnson said.

“This once-a-week injection using an injection pen is a great step forward.

“The injection pen is much easier to use, and has less intrusion on the day-to-day lives of people with diabetes … and it’s now affordable with the PBS listing.”

He said that exenatide’s discovery was another example of the unpredictable path of diabetes research and modern medicine.

“This goes to show that some medical solutions can be found in the most unlikely places,” A/Professor Johnson said.

Also added to the PBS from 1 September were tablet-form medications linagliptin (Trajenta), linagliptin with metformin (Trajentamet), vildagliptin (Galvus), and vildagliptin with metformin (Galvumet) – giving patients additional treatment options.

Ms Ley said the new diabetes treatments were expected to be cost-neutral as they were an alternative to existing treatment.

Ms Ley also announced $60 million to list Bevacizumab (Avastin) on the PBS for the treatment of persistent, recurrent, or metastatic cervical cancer where surgery or radiation is not a viable treatment.

“This announcement will help save the lives of more than 200 Australian women who aren’t responding to conventional treatments for their cervical cancer, and therapy was previously out of reach at $55,000 per course of treatment,” Ms Ley said.

“They will now pay just $6.20 per script if they’re a concessional patient or $38.30 if they’re a general patient.”

Patients suffering from Acromegaly – a rare condition caused by an overproduction of growth hormone by the pituitary gland, which can lead to abnormal growth of the hands, feet, and face – will also be able to access Pasireotide (Signifor) at the subsidised rate.

Previously, Pasireotide would have cost $50,000 for a course of treatment.

While the Government is adding new medicines to the PBS, it has also negotiated price drops of up to 50 per cent for 2000 drugs already subsidised by the taxpayer.

Ms Ley said that from 1 October, a third of all medicine brands listed on the PBS would be cheaper, with some patients saving up to $20 per script.

The price drops are the result of the Government’s PBS Sustainability Package, which is also expected to save taxpayers almost $900 million over four years.

More information is available at

Maria Hawthorne




Published: 20 Sep 2016