CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) Treatment Internationally: We Can't Always Get What We Want
This unfortunate CLL patient can't even get bendamustine and rituximab in Ontario, Canada, let alone ibrutinib or idelalisib or ABT-199 or obinutizumab. OHIP, the provincial insurance won't pay for any of it.
Here in the USA, she would automatically qualify for ibrutinib as as second line therapy or she could get her BR or enter a trial or a host of other choices. Not so in Canada.
I am so lucky to be able to have received ibrutinib in a clinical trial long before it was approved.
Others, mostly those wanting a non-chemo first line therapy, have been less fortunate. Still on clinical trials.gov, a quick look found eight open trials for untreated CLL patients with either ABT-199 or ibrutinib or idelalisib or obinutuzumab. And there are many more options using other very promising TKIs and mAbs in development. It's true that you can't be assured that you can get ibrutinib by prescription for frontline treatment, but at least most American untreated patients have many fine options with or without chemo.
When I advocate for more research on the the multi-drug non -chemo treatments for those of us such as myself not in CR after two years of ibrutinib, it is not meant at the expense of those needing other therapies or better access.
I want to see improved access for all of us. One way that might be possible is by following a path such a Professor Hallek outlined at ASH 2013 to limit the duration of therapy and thus control cost. I would just leave out or at least severely restrict the chemo piece of his protocol. His full article is available and well worth reading. It is a thoughtful discussion and one vision of the possible future of CLL treatment.
This is all new territory and we need the trials on untreated patients and we need the trials on relapsed patients and we need the trials on patients not in CR.
Truth is we are barely at the break of dawn of this new era of treatment and we need so many studies to help guide us. We are making this up as we go along.
What we also need to remember is that we are are all in this together and none of us, myself included, should wish for an option that limits another's choices. At least in the USA, we are not at that point.
Canada may be a different story. There is a petition at the end of the attached article. Her denial of care seems cruel, unjust, unscientific, and just plain dumb to me.
I understand that nearly all cancer treatment is expensive. I understand society must make tough choices about how to allocate limited resources. But making choices based solely on arbitrary protocols and short term dollars signs is not good policy, especially when it clearly stands against both the best evidence based medicine and the specific clinical circumstances of the patient.
Truth is that ibrutinib might be a smarter choice than BR for this patient after relapsing only four years post FR. Truth is we learn nothing in this article about the state of her marrow. Can it handle more chemo? We don't even know her FISH. If she is 17p deleted, BR could be a dangerous waste of time and resources, and might leave her worse off than before the therapy.
In the end with CLL, one has to chose which battles to fight. Anne and her oncologist have made their choice and are pushing for BR, so I am assuming they are on their game and have done their due diligence.
Yesterday, I heard from patients in Turkey and China looking in vain for novel therapies. I quote from the latter email discussing ibrutinib: Indeed the medicine cost is too high, and even if it's approved to be imported to China, the market price in China would be still higher (with extremely high custom rate), and yet any imported medicine is out of the range of medical insurance in China.
It's tough for my friends in Europe too. NICE that regulates new drugs in the EU can be very price sensitive and there seems to be be fewer non-chemo trials.
I know how spoiled I am living in the USA. I know how lucky I am to have nabbed a spot in my trial.
I wish everyone everywhere had access to what they needed to be well.
After all, we are all in this together.
But there is only one of me and I am spread pretty thin already, so I narrow my focus, and try to make sure that at least those of us in North America get the best possible and smartest treatments out there.
The LLS is doing important work on improving access through its patient advocacy and other efforts. They deserves our support. See the photo below.
Brampton woman denied OHIP coverage for life-saving cancer drugs
Anne Mitchell is fighting an uphill battle.
After four years in remission, the 67-year-old mother of two is gearing up for her second battle with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.
But dealing with cancer isn’t the only obstacle the Brampton woman must overcome. The real challenge now — apart from fighting the illness — is coming up with the money to pay for life-saving drugs.
“My mother can’t receive chemotherapy drugs, purely for bureaucratic reasons,” said Mitchell’s daughter Eleanor Elliott, who has launched on an online petition in a bid to pressure the provincial government to dole out the $52,000 her mother needs for the chemotherapy drugs Bendamustine and Rituximab.
But, since Mitchell has undergone chemo before, the drug isn’t covered by OHIP. The other drug, Rituximab, is approved for second line use, but only in tandem with Fludarabine — a drug that Mitchell can’t take because she suffered an extreme, adverse reaction to it during her first bout with chemotherapy.
“The drugs that my mother’s oncologist prescribed are funded by the government. However, in my mother’s case, they have denied her funding,” Elliott said. “If a drug is approved for funding, how can you deny a Canadian citizen access to that drug? How is this possible in our great country that prides itself on universal healthcare?”
In October 2010, doctors treated Mitchell’s cancer with Fludarabine and Rituximab, two very powerful chemotherapy drugs.
Mitchell, who has lived in Bramalea for nearly 40 years, received got through two treatments before the regime was abruptly stopped because of her negative reaction to Fludarabine.
Mitchell was hospitalized for weeks with a severe lung infection that nearly killed her.
Despite that setback, her cancer went into remission and Mitchell and husband John, 68, were looking forward to better days.
But the cancer has returned and doctors believe Mitchell’s fighting chances are good if treated with a combination of Bendamustine and Rituximab.
However, the hefty price tag on those drugs now stands in Mitchell’s way.
Mitchell’s latest chemo treatment was to start April 7. Shortly after arriving in the oncology department at Brampton Civic Hospital, she received news that the $8,700 for the Bendamustine and Rituximab would have to come out of her own pocket.
“I felt complete and utter shock,” said an emotional Mitchell, describing her reaction when told OHIP denied her payment.
Mitchell used a credit card to cover the $4,500 cost for the first round of Bendamustine. She needs six treatments in total and can’t afford the cost.
Elliott said the hospital administered the Rituximab at no charge and has put through an appeal to Ontario’s health ministry for the $4,200.
“I sat in shock as my mother had to pull out a credit card to pay for her treatment,” said Elliott, who is concerned that her parents will be forced to spend their retirement savings on cancer treatments.
With her mother facing an uphill fight, Elliott has taken to social media for support. Her online petition has so far garnered more than 600 signatures, She plans to present the petition to provincial health officials.
Bramalea MPP Jagmeet Singh has offered his support in the form of a letter sent to Ontario Health Minister Deborah Matthews appealing for help
According to Elliott, Lundbeck Canada has agreed to cover 20 per cent of the cost of the Bendamustine, but the family will have to pay the cost up front and then apply for a rebate.
But, as Elliott noted, that works out to be just about 10 per cent of the total cost of her mother’s required treatment.
Elliott argues that her mother wasn’t able to complete her first round of chemotherapy and therefore should still be considered a first-time patient.
Falling under the category of first-time chemotherapy patient would make her eligible for the Bendamustine. Elliott also wants Ontario to waive the requirement that OHIP will only cover Rituximab if taken with Fludarabine.
She argues that approved chemotherapy drugs be approved “without discrimination and without bureaucratic intervention that could cost Canadians, like her mother, their lives.”
To view the online petition click here .