Anti-cancer treatment venetoclax listed on Australian PBS

23 February 2019
A new targeted treatment option for patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) will be available from 1 March 2019 through the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
The announcement was made at the Institute by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.

At a glance

  • A targeted therapy for CLL has been approved by the Australian PBS.
  • The drug venetoclax is based on a landmark discovery made at the Institute in the 1980s.
  • This success story is underpinned by three decades of scientific determination and collaboration.

Venetoclax – marketed as VENCLEXTA – is based on a landmark discovery made at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in the late 1980s that the protein BCL-2 helps leukaemia cells live. The drug works by blocking BCL-2, thereby helping to kill and reduce the number of cancer cells.

VENCLEXTA plus rituximab have been approved as a targeted, fixed duration combination therapy for treatment of patients with CLL who have received at least one prior therapy.

Success story for Australian medical research

Professor Andrew Roberts, Professor Doug Hilton and Health Minister Greg Hunt MP
Professor Andrew Roberts, Professor
Doug Hilton and Health Minister Greg
Hunt MP at the announcement

Institute director Professor Doug Hilton said the announcement highlighted a remarkable medical research success story, underpinned by three decades of scientific resolve, entrepreneurial drive and successful collaboration.

“Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers, together with collaborators from The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and the pharmaceutical companies AbbVie and Genentech, have worked together to take the initial BCL-2 discovery right through to the development of a life-saving medicine.

“The PBS listing of this drug is a proud day for the many medical researchers who came together in the hope of improving the survivorship of patients with CLL,” Professor Hilton said.

Professor Andrew Roberts, Cancer Theme Leader at the Institute said the listing of VENCLEXTA was testimony to the effectiveness of Australian medical innovation.

“New medicines don’t happen by accident. They are the result of careful laboratory and clinical research over many years.

“In the case of this drug, Australian scientists and clinical researchers played prominent roles, demonstrating that Australia is a key player in globally significant translational research,” Professor Roberts said.

Improving treatment options for people with CLL

Mother with her three children


Cancer survivor Deborah Sims with her children

Each year in Australia around 1400 people are diagnosed with CLL making it the most common type of leukaemia. Cancer survivor Deborah Sims said the announcement marked just how important it was for patients to access available treatments.

“Having access to funded treatment is crucial for people on a cancer journey. This is wonderful news for patients in Australia who will now have access to another option for treatment.

“This day means a lot to me because I understand the cancer journey. In 2015, I was declared terminally ill. Thanks to the seminal discovery made at the Institute all those years ago and to the eventual development of the drug, I was able to get onto an early trial. I can truly say I have experienced the power of medical research,” she said.


Additional information

VENCLEXTA was developed as part of a research collaboration between AbbVie, Genentech, a member of the Roche Group of Companies, and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia. Visit AbbVie Australia to find out more.



Media inquiries

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E: communityrelations@wehi.edu.au

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