One in two Canadians will experience cancer in their lifetime. Although there have been strides in cancer research that have improved survival rates and provided a better quality of life for patients under treatment, a cancer diagnosis is devastating to patients and their families. Even more so when a patient discovers that the life-saving drug that they need remains just out of reach.
Lymphoma Canada and 12 other signatories from across the cancer spectrum are calling on health researchers and health policy decision-makers to advise the Canadian government to speed up access to approved cancer drugs. These groups are in Halifax this month at a conference, entitled “Managing Health Technology: Supporting Appropriate, Affordable and Appropriate Use,” hosted by The Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health (CADTH), the Canadian regulatory body that provides advice to provinces/ territories about paying for new cancer treatments, approved by Health Canada, through public plans.
The policy paper that they laid out was titled: “Improving Access to Innovative Cancer Therapies”.
“This landmark policy paper is being made available to Canadian government health officials, policy makers and cancer patients in order to provide recommendations to bring safe and effective innovative therapies, already approved by Health Canada, to patients early, when they are needed urgently,” says Lymphoma Canada CEO Robin Markowitz. “We are releasing it during this conference because the decision-makers will be together to discuss and endorse our request. The conference is about supporting access, and this is a huge gap in access that threatens the lives and health of many cancer patients.”
It can come as a shock to some, but a drug’s approval in Canada by Health Canada doesn’t necessarily translate to easy access.
“Innovative cancer drugs have been approved by Health Canada so why are patients’ lives being jeopardized waiting for access?” asks decades-long patient advocate and a policy paper co-author Louise Binder of Save Your Skin Foundation. “The current criteria for approval to publicly fund a cancer therapy often require data that takes years to compile. Time is of the essence for cancer patients. There are better solutions. Canada has great pride in its healthcare system, yet recently we have seen a decline in funding new life-saving cancer therapies resulting in delay or denial of these therapies to patients who desperately need them.”
The pace of innovation continues to bring new cancer drugs to market sooner. Once a drug therapy is deemed safe and efficacious, it may be fast-tracked, enabling patients to quickly have access – patients for whom time is limited. These drugs are often submitted to the regulatory body with non-comparative data.
Martine Elias of Myeloma Canada, also a co-author, states that “this is the perfect time to release our policy paper for clinicians, government decision-makers, patients, industry, researchers and healthcare providers at this conference to reflect upon how governments can modernize their policies. We understand that governments are also concerned about affordability in the health care system. This can be managed through innovative risk-sharing and other price control and reduction agreements.”
Binder says that the call to action recognizes that research in cancer has made incredible advancements in treatment. “We need to keep pace with these advances in our health policy. We call on CADTH to determine new criteria for reviewing this research that will reduce wait times.”
Sharon Halpern, diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer in 2000, adds, “This is literally a matter of life and death.”