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The quandary of cancer drugs in Quebec

MONTREAL – Cancer advocates are furious over what they term a cancer drug crisis in Quebec, with new drugs not being approved for use in the public healthcare system, even though they`re available in other provinces.

At the root of the problem is cost; namely the cost-benefit analysis used by the province, advocates say.

“What are the exact costs that they find so high?” said Nicole Giroux, a member of the Coalition Priorité Cancer au Quebec. “Why would Quebec pay more than Ontario?”

According to the coalition, the number of new cancer cases in Quebec is estimated at 50,000. More than 20,000 people will die of the illness, making it Quebec`s leading cause of death, according to the coalition. This year, only one out of 13 new cancer drugs were green lit by the provincial government.

But Quebec`s health ministry says the province doesn’t lag behind other provinces, and that drugs aren’t approved because they aren’t effective.

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“Before getting a medication approved, they have to prove the efficacy of the medication and the value added to the (present) medication available to cancer patients,” said Quebec Health Minister Réjean Hébert.

Part of the problem involves the precarious balance between the rising cost of vanguard pharmaceuticals and the need for the public health care system to choose drugs that can confer benefits for the largest segment of the public.

But the exact criteria holding up the drugs in Quebec is “not entirely clear,” says Dr. Gerald Batist, the director of oncology at the Jewish General Hospital.

“Most of these drugs were approved on the basis of their medical benefits, and they were disapproved based on financial matters. That`s very disturbing to us.”

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