Expensive hep C drugs may be funded too late for terminally ill woman
Jennifer Peever and her mother, Brenda, are seen in this undated image. (Change.org)
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, February 24, 2014 12:21PM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 24, 2014 8:29PM EST
An Ontario woman is asking that her terminally ill mother receive compassionate access to two recently approved and very expensive hepatitis C drugs that have yet to be listed under either private or public drug plans.
Jennifer Peever of Ottawa has posted a petition to Change.org to ask that the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health (CADTH) “prioritize” its review of the two drugs. The CADTH reviews newly approved drugs and makes coverage recommendations to public and private health plans.
Peever is also asking Ontario’s Ministry of Health and the drug makers to “compassionately” provide the drug to her mother and others like her, who may die before the drugs are approved for coverage under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).
The drugs in question are sofosbuvir, known by the brand name Sovaldi, which was approved by Health Canada in January, and simeprevir, known by the brand name Galexos, which Health Canada approved last November.
Studies have shown a cure rate as high as 90 per cent for Sovaldi.
Peever says her doctor has told her mother, 59-year-old Brenda, that the cost of the drugs would be $84,000, which is “prohibitive for families like ours who do not have private health insurance.”
The maker of Sovaldi, Gilead, told CTVNews.ca in an email that a 12-week course of the drug in fact costs $55,000 in Canada. The $84,000 is the cost of a 12-week course in the United States, a spokesperson said.
“Without access my mother will need a live liver transplant very soon, which she may not survive, and which ironically will cost the province more than if she could have access the drugs,” Peever writes in her petition.
The petition had more than 41,000 signatures as of Monday.
According to Peever, her mother’s doctor has informed them that the drugs may not be covered until 2015.
Both drugs are at different stages of review by the CADTH’s drug expert committee, which reviews all information related to newly approved drugs and issues a recommendation on whether the drugs should be listed by insurance plans.
A spokesperson for the CADTH told CTVNews.ca that she was aware of the petition, but would look into Peever’s request that the panel “prioritize” its review of the two drugs.
A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Health would not comment on Peever’s specific case for privacy reasons.
However, in a statement, ministry spokesperson Joanne Woodward Fraser confirmed that the two drugs are not currently funded by the Ontario Drug Benefit Formulary.
When considering whether a drug should be funded the ministry has its own expert advisory committee, which considers information and recommendations, including those put forward by the CADTH’s drug expert committee.
The drugs are not currently available under the Exceptional Access Program because they are still under review both by the ministry’s committee and the CADTH panel, and have not gone through the Ontario Pubic Drug Programs’ submission process, Woodward Fraser said.
According to the petition, Brenda contracted hepatitis C when she received a blood transfusion after she gave birth in 1975 to a baby girl at age 21. Brenda gave up the baby for adoption, and only recently reconnected with her.
Brenda learned that she had received tainted blood in 2000, and in 2010 began treatment with interferon drugs that led to severe side effects including nausea, thinning hair, reduced appetite and depression. She ended treatment after 24 weeks, after her doctor told her it wasn’t working.
Brenda now has late-stage liver cirrhosis “and doesn’t have much time left,” Jennifer writes.
Peever says that her mother has been told she is an ideal candidate for the new drugs.
“Brenda is the mother of five girls and grandmother to six grandchildren the youngest being 18 months old,” Jennifer writes. “We would love the opportunity for Nana to be around to get to know the kids before she dies at such the young age of 59.”