Access to New Oncology Drugs in Canada Compared with the United States and Europe

August 2, 2012

Cancer is the leading cause of premature death in Canada. The numbers of new cases of breast, colorectal, ovarian, prostate and kidney cancer, and leukemia and lymphoma have changed little over the last 20 years. Moreover, the five-year survival rates for lung and ovarian cancer have remained more or less the same over that same period for many types of cancer, says Dr. Nigel Rawson, a pharmacoepidemiologist and president of Eastlake Research Group in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

While calls for newer, more effective treatments are numerous, the timeliness of the review and approval of new drugs for use in Canada remains subpar. Indeed, the review process in Canada is much more stringent and time-consuming than in other industrialized nations.

  • Of the 33 new oncology drugs included in Rawson's study, 30 were approved in the United States and 26 were approved in the European Community, but only 24 were permitted in Canada between 2003 and 2011.
  • The median review times of these drugs were 182 days in the United States, 410 days in Europe and 356 days in Canada.
  • In the United States, 25 of the 30 approved drugs (83 percent) received an expedited review (median and average approval times of 182 and 217 days, respectively).
  • Meanwhile, in Canada, only eight of the 24 drugs (33 percent) received a priority review (median and average approval times of 326 and 422 days, respectively).

Furthermore, in addition to delayed access, Canada's health care system failed to provide assistance in receiving the oncology drugs crucial to check the high fatality rate from cancer.

  • By the end of March 2012, only three of the 24 drugs approved in Canada were covered to some degree by government insurance in all 10 provinces.
  • Meanwhile, seven others had government subsidized access in some provinces.
  • Crucially, almost 60 percent had no government subsidized access in any province.

These delays in care and limitations on access threaten the health outcomes of the numerous Canadian patients who are fighting against cancer. It does not stand to reason that Canada would maintain a drug approval process that is so much more demanding than that of comparable nations such as the United States.

Source: Nigel S.B. Rawson, "Access to New Oncology Drugs in Canada Compared with the United States and Europe," Fraser Institute, July 2012.

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