Canada Cancer Drugs: Wait Times For Drugs In Canada Exceed U.S., Europe

Canadians seeking new cancer drugs have a longer wait time than those in the United States or Europe, a new report from the Fraser Institute revealed this week.

"Access to New Oncology Drugs in Canada Compared with the United States and Europe" by Dr. Nigel Rawson showed that of 33 new oncology drugs introduced between 2003 and 2011, 30 were approved in the United States, 26 in Europe, and 24 in Canada.

But it goes beyond just accepting new options for treatment. Median review times for new drugs in Canada were almost double that of the U.S. (Europe had the longest review time, at 410 days), and time to market was, on average, 18 months behind the United States.

As Rawson writes in the paper, "This finding, combined with the fact that only three of 24 new oncology drugs approved in Canada between 2003 and 2011 have some degree of government insurance coverage in all provinces, raises concern for Canadian cancer patients."

A recent case in Toronto involving a father of three demonstrated the potential consequences of the lengthy review process. Darcy Doherty, who pleaded with insurance companies for access to an experimental drug, BMS-936558, passed away after a nine-year fight with cancer in July. He had previously responded favourably to a similar drug.

"We've always been rather risk averse in this country," Rawson told The Huffington Post Canada. While he notes that some companies may not even submit their drugs to Canada to be reviewed based on the size of the market and other factors, there's also a certain lack of transparency on behalf of the federal agency.

"Health Canada releases annual performance reports and they have the submission date and the approval date ... but you don't get any reasoning as to why a drug took a specific period of time," he explains. He also points to a pilot project being launched by the Canadian and U.S. governments that takes into account each country's drug reviews.

Other organizations, such as the Canadian Diabetes Association, has also taken Canada's drug review process to task, saying many with chronic conditions are not able to get access to the medications they need in a timely manner.

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