Opinion: Speed up access to approved cancer drugs

Strides in cancer research have increased survival rates and provided a better quality of life for patients under treatment. But getting the best treatment as soon as possible remains a matter of life and death for many Canadians.

Speed is of the essence. Patients and families in Alberta live with the hope that a new, effective treatment will be available by the time they need it.

Health Canada, the government agency which must approve all drugs and medical technology for use in Canada, has recognized the need to keep up with the pace of innovations which have allowed new cancer drugs to be brought to market sooner, and has worked to speed up approval of promising new cancer therapies.

But that doesn’t mean these approved drugs are funded more quickly or at all. Few patients consider that the cancer treatment recommended by their doctor, and often available in other countries, may not be approved for funding, essentially meaning that it will be inaccessible.

Since Canadian health care, including the cost of drugs, is under the jurisdiction of provinces and territories, it’s up to them to decide if a drug will be eligible for public reimbursement. For cancer drugs, provinces and territories broadly follow the recommendation of the pan-Canadian Oncology Drug Review (pCODR) when making final reimbursement and coverage decisions. A negative recommendation from pCODR is tantamount to a stop sign in terms of patient access.

Comprised of medical oncologists, physicians, pharmacists, economists, an ethicist and patient members, the pCODR typically relies on randomized control trials (RCT) to make its decisions. That’s the gold standard.

However, RCTs are not always feasible, appropriate or ethical for the evaluation of new therapeutic interventions. Non-comparative data is increasingly being used. The criteria pCODR uses for RCT data has not kept pace with the breakthroughs in cancer research. Their system of …read more

Source:: Edmonton Journal

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