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NHI approves plerixafor for treatment, coverage

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The National Health Insurance Administration (NHI) has approved plerixafor as a cancer treatment covered by its program.

Plerixafor is an immunostimulant that mobilizes hematopoietic stem cells in cancer patients. The stem cells are then transplanted back to the patients.

Plerixafor can improve the survival rates for patients of non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL) and multiple myeloma (MM) cancers, doctors say.

According to government statistics, Taiwan saw an increase of 2,202 NHL patients and 502 MM patients in 2010 — making them the biggest and third biggest blood cancer groups respectively in Taiwan.

Tang Chi-lu, who is in charge of the bone marrow transplant department at National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH), said 50 percent of MM cancer patients in the United States have tried hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, but only one in eight in Taiwan has done so.

Plerixafor acts as an antagonist of the alpha chemokine receptor CXCR4, a process which is important in hematopoietic stem cell homing to the bone marrow, doctors said.

Patients using plerixafor can now save as much as almost NT$670,000 thanks to NHI coverage, said Lin Chien-yi, a doctor at NTUH.

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