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

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced the province surpasses one million COVID-19 tests Friday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up by 100 in last 24 hours

Most central Alberta communities under province’s enhanced measures list

Sylvan Lake RCMP, Fire Department and Victim Services will be out on Dec. 5 for the annual Charity Check-stop. File Photo
Give Sylvan Lake RCMP the bird at Charity Check-stop

Sylvan Lake RCMP will be accepting frozen turkeys for the food bank during the charity check-stop

Ecole H.J. Cody School. File Photo
Sylvan Lake high school temporarily moves to online classes

Over the weekend, H.J. Cody reported six positive cases of COVID-19

.
Alberta confirmed more than 1,500 COVID-19 cases Sunday

Central zone active cases slightly up

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

Russ and Luanne Carl are sharing about their experiences of fighting COVID-19 this past summer.
photo submitted
Stettler couple opens up about COVID-19 battle

Luanne and Russ Carl urge others to bolster personal safety measures amidst ongoing pandemic

This 2019 photo provided by The ALS Association shows Pat Quinn. Quinn, a co-founder of the viral ice bucket challenge, died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, at the age of 37. (Scott Kauffman/The ALS Association via AP)
Co-founder of viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dies at 37

Pat Quinn was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2013

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following party caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Exclusion of mental health as grounds for assisted death is likely temporary: Lametti

Senators also suggested the exclusion renders the bill unconstitutional

Claudio Mastronardi, Toronto branch manager at Carmichael Engineering, is photographed at the company’s offices in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. As indoor air quality becomes a major concern in places of business, HVAC companies are struggling to keep up with demand for high quality filtration systems. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Business is booming for HVAC companies as commercial buildings see pandemic upgrades

‘The demand right now is very high. People are putting their health and safety ahead of cost’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Long-awaited federal rent subsidy program for businesses hurt by COVID-19 opens today

The new program will cover up to 65 per cent of rent or commercial mortgage interest

Traffic crosses over the Lions Gate Bridge from North Vancouver into Vancouver on July 2, 2015. Motorists would have to pay a fee to drive into downtown Vancouver under the city's plan to slow climate change but one expert warns it could pose financial hardship for some. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver’s climate plan ‘first 10 steps in a journey of 10,000,’ says expert

Almost 40 per cent of Vancouver’s carbon pollution comes from vehicles

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
After COVID-related transplant delays, 16-year-old N.S. girl gets lung transplant

‘This is the difficult time now of seeing Tahlia in ICU hooked up to 15 IVs and sedated’

Most Read