Monday, January 27, 2014

Canadians are still frustrated at lack of affordable access to new cancer medicines

Recent negative funding recommendations for new colon cancer drugs add to patient group's concerns
MONTREAL, January. 27, 2014 /Canada NewsWire/ - Following the Fraser Institute's study published on November 7, 2013, which indicates that the health of more than 5,000 Canadian cancer patients may have been negatively affected by slow federal and provincial reimbursement approval procedures, the pan-Canadian Oncology Drug Review (pCODR) has recently made negative recommendations concerning funding of two cancer therapies for metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC). pCODR did not recommend public funding for regorafenib (Stivarga®), a new mCRC therapy and the first new treatment option for the disease since 2006. Additionally, pCODR did not recommend funding of cetuximab (Erbitux®) for the first-line treatment of patients with K-RAS wild type unresectable mCRC. These negative recommendations come as a great disappointment to patients, caregivers and the colon cancer community - both treatments represent viable new options for colorectal cancer patients with advanced disease.

Timely approval of and affordable access to effective new medications is an important issue for Canadian patients. The Fraser Institute study, Potential Impact of Delayed Access to Five Oncology Drugs in Canada, looked at five cancer drugs - one of which was bevacizumab (Avastin®) for mCRC - and it noted that if patients had access to those particular new drugs, a total survival extension of 1,696 patient-years would have resulted. These findings follow their previous 2012 study, iiAccess to New Oncology Drugs in Canada Compared with the United States and Europe that found Canada's reviews and approval of new cancer drugs took almost twice as long as those in the United States.

The pCODR process attempts to address timeliness of approval by allowing for a review of a medication before, or during, its review by Health Canada. The pCODR process also allows for patient groups to provide input as part of the review process, which the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada (CCAC) sees as critical - CCAC is concerned that pCODR is placing insufficient weight to the patient group's submissions.

"It is true that we are in the early days of precision/personalized medicine and that the cost of these new products can be high, however, the benefit to society and to patients of developing these new drugs should not be such that patients lose the opportunity to benefit from them due to their cost alone," said Barry D. Stein, president of the CCAC. 

As new biomarkers are developed, precision drugs will be given only to those patients that truly benefit from them. At the American Society of Clinical Oncology Gastrointestinal Cancers meeting (ASCO GI) recently held in San Francisco, the importance of RAS mutations was underscored in further identifying appropriate subgroups of patients that benefit from specific targeted drugs.

"There is a great unmet need for these new medications in Canada and the cost should not be the determining factor for patients with metastatic disease. These treatments might not be curative, but they can provide patients with valuable time during the last stages of their lives - this is important," Stein added. 

pCODR will be deciding on other new cancer treatments, as well as, older medications in new lines of therapy, and the CCAC is very concerned that Canadian patients may find themselves in the regrettable situation where they will not have the right to benefit from these new medications.

"As a patient who continues to manage my colorectal cancer, I can personally speak to how important new treatments are for patients like me," says Stephen Dunn in Toronto. "When you have advanced cancer, the idea of putting a dollar amount on additional time with your loved ones is unfathomable." 

CCAC will continue to work with pCODR and provincial formularies across the country to ensure that Canadian cancer patients have access to new and effective medications in the appropriate circumstances.  Canadians living with cancer deserve timely, affordable and equal access to the potential life-prolonging therapies and therapies which improve their quality of life when recommended by their physicians in the appropriate circumstances. 

About Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer, cancer of the colon or rectum, is the second-leading cause of cancer death in Canada.  Though highly preventable and curable when detected early, an estimated 23,300 Canadians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and approximately 9,200 sadly will die from it.
An almost equal number of men and women are affected by colorectal cancer.  One in 13 men and one in 16 women are expected to develop the disease during their lifetime. One in 28 men and one in 32 women will die from it.

About the CCAC

The Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada is the country's leading non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of colorectal cancer, supporting patients and advocating for national screening and timely and equal access to effective treatment options to improve patient outcomes.