Accessing Avastin for Kidney Cancer in Canada

Patients living in the U.S. or in Europe know that Avastin (+Interferon) was approved a long time ago for kidney cancer. The efficacy of that particular combination is not in question. However, for reasons unknown, the manufacturer in Canada has chosen not to file for a Health Canada indication for mrcc, so the drug is simply not approved by Health Canada for kidney cancer. It was never denied — it has never been requested.

This week this particular issue came to a head, as it usually does, with the case of one patient — a person with a name and a face. She is a young woman, only 29 years old. She has bravely enrolled in a trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland for her papillary mrcc and is doing well. The drug combination (of Avastin + Tarceva) is working for her. That’s the good news. Now all she needs is to be able to have the Avastin infusions done here in Canada every 2 weeks. The drug will be paid for (it’s a clinical trial), but in Canada it’s very difficult to get a drug infused that isn’t approved by Health Canada for your type of cancer. So far she has waited through four weeks of paperwork and nothing has happened.

So, we are rallying our troops. KCC’s expert medical advisors are offering advice. Our volunteer Board of Directors is making phone calls and lining up options. While the hospital speaks to its ethics department and consults with Health Canada, we are doing everything we can to come up with options. The drug is in the hospital pharmacy already (there for other types of cancers). The drug works for the patient and will be paid for by the trial centre in the U.S.. All she needs is a hospital or clinic who will agree to infuse it into her arm every two weeks.

In an ideal world, the manufacturer would agree to give the patient the drug on a compassionate-use basis, but even then, some cancer centres would not agree to infuse it.
If a drug is not “indicated” and for some, “not reimbursed”, they stand by their policy not to infuse it in their clinics.

Let’s hope we can get this resolved this week. Let saner heads prevail and give the patient the drug she needs closer to home. Sometimes it comes down to one patient. One patient with a name and a face.

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