This microscope image made available by the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research in 2015 shows human colon cancer cells with the nuclei stained red. Sales of medications to treat cancer have nearly tripled in Canada over the past decade, reaching $3.9 billion last year, a report by a federal agency says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, AP, NCI Center for Cancer Research

This microscope image made available by the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research in 2015 shows human colon cancer cells with the nuclei stained red. Sales of medications to treat cancer have nearly tripled in Canada over the past decade, reaching $3.9 billion last year, a report by a federal agency says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, AP, NCI Center for Cancer Research

Cost for cancer-fighting drugs triples in Canada but still no national drug plan

Medicines with 28-day treatment costs exceeding $7,500 made up 43 per cent of private plan oncology drug costs

Sales of medications to treat cancer have nearly tripled in Canada over the past decade, reaching $3.9 billion last year, a report by a federal agency says.

The Patented Medicine Prices Review Board has released data showing cancer medications account for about 15 per cent of all spending on pharmaceuticals.

“In 2019, medicines with 28-day treatment costs exceeding $7,500 made up 43 per cent of private plan oncology drug costs, compared with 17 per cent in 2010,” says the report by the board, which aims to protect consumers by ensuring manufacturers aren’t charging excessive prices for patented medications.

It says growth in the Canadian oncology market last year exceeded that of other countries including the United States and Switzerland, with a 20 per cent increase over sales from 2018.

Sales of oral cancer medications account for half of all oncology sales in Canada, up from 37 per cent in 2010, the report says, adding that while intravenous chemotherapy is publicly funded in all provinces, reimbursement of oral drugs differs across the country.

Steve Morgan, a professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, said it doesn’t make sense to cover the cost of intravenous chemotherapy in hospitals and not medications prescribed to patients outside of those facilities, but that’s justified in a country without a national drug plan.

“This is one of the messy bits of the Canadian health-care system,” he said, adding there’s a patchwork system of coverage across jurisdictions, with cancer agencies in some provinces providing limited payment for at-home oncology treatments.

A national pharmacare plan would allow Canada to negotiate better drug prices, Morgan said, noting it’s the only country in the world with a universal health-care system without coverage for prescription drugs.

Much of the national-level negotiating countries do with manufacturers happens in secret, Morgan said, starting with a list or sticker price, much like buying a vehicle at a dealership, as part of a complicated regime involving rebates to bring down prices.

“It’s deliberately made to cloud the real transaction price, the real price to health the system, so that no country can look at it and say, ‘hey, wait a second, I heard that the people in Australia got this amazing new price on this drug.’”

“What we can’t know is exactly which countries are getting the most value for money because we don’t get to see their secret deals. We do know that Canada’s list prices are among the highest in the world, and even above the level that the (Patented Medicine Prices Review Board) would like to see in terms of just the beginning of negotiations,” Morgan said.

Countries with universal single-payer systems for medications, including Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand are likely using their negotiating power to get better prices from manufacturers asking for unreasonable amounts of money, he said.

Canada is expected to have about 225,000 new cancer cases and 83,000 deaths from the disease this year alone, the report by the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board says.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Cancer

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Gregory Ould, co-founder and executive director of Blanket BC, drops off warming blankets to Our Home on Eighth shelter in Port Alberni during a tour of Vancouver Island on Feb. 19, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Blanket BC delivers warmth, hope to Vancouver Island’s homeless

Gregory Ould donated blankets, toques in five communities

The Chan family stands in front of the donor recognition wall at West Coast General Hospital with the new ultrasound that was purchased with their donation. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Doctor’s estate funds new ultrasound machine at West Coast General Hospital

Dr. Shiu Fai Chan worked at Port Alberni’s hospital for years

Construction takes place on Bamfield Main in early February 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY CTV NEWS)
Closures planned for Bamfield Road

Construction by Mosaic unrelated to $30M upgrade

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

The Alberni Valley’s Emergency Operations Centre is located around the corner and below the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District office. (AV NEWS FILE PHOTO)
Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District tests new mobile alert system

Residents can still sign up for free Voyent Alert! emergency messaging

COVID-19 vaccines were available at a site on East Pender in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Feb. 25. (Twitter/Sarahblyth17)
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside residents offered $5 after getting COVID-19 vaccine

It’s an effort to ‘incentivize people to engage,’ says B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix

</p>
A survey by Statistics Canada finds Black Canadians earn less than non-visible minority Canadians despite having higher levels of education. (The Canadian Press file photo)
COVID-19 worsened unemployment picture for Black Canadians

Black Canadians also more likely to suffer other hardships

(Black Press Media files)
B.C. teacher transferred then suspended after students report feeling ‘scared, nervous’

Authorities found that teacher did not create inviting, respectful environment for students

Victoria’s Swartz Bay terminal. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries offers cheaper, prepaid fare options

Ferry service preparing for busy terminals when travel restrictions are lifted

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

The area on Cordova Bay Road where ancestral human remains were discovered Feb. 22. (Submitted photo)
Human remains discovery a reminder of B.C. Indigenous culture dug up and displaced

‘These are the people who inspired and birthed the generations that we now have here’

Most Read