Published by 630 CHED
September 30, 2015
The province has announced a new pilot project that it says will provide more treatment options for patients, especially aging seniors suffering from vision loss. It should save them in co-payment costs approximately $300 every year.
Two drugs for treatment of what is usually age related vision loss will be offered. Eye doctors say both work equally well, however one is listed with Health Canada for this specific use, and the other one isn’t.
You will be able to choose treatment with either Lucentis or Avastin, both of which treat age-related macular degeneration, diabetic macular edema, retinal vein occlusion and other retinal conditions as of Thursday.
It’s not worthwhile to the manufacturer to apply to Health Canada to get Avastin on the list, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman told a news conference. “In this circumstance the drug that is on-label right now, that provides the same results, is benefiting the manufacturer by a cost of $1500 per dose. The far more cost effective dose is less than $50, so it is not in their best business interest to approach Health Canada and ask for it to be on-label.”
But it’s not with out controversy. Health Canada says the drug Avastin was not developed to be injected into the eye, and warns of possible side effects, most likely inflammation which can lead to vision loss. It was originally a cancer drug.
“I’ve been working on this for seven years,” said surgeon and retinal specialist Dr. Matt Tennant. “Dave Hancock was the original person I wrote a letter to about this. Why are we as Albertans spending more than $50 million a year on a medication which is about 100 times cheaper?”
“Both medications…work just as well. And more recently it’s been shown both are just as safe. In the end, it’s to do with price,” Tennant said.
Under the program, the Alberta government will cover the cost of Avastin to prevent vision loss. The will be no co-payment for patients under the program, which will save seniors $25 per injection, or $300 per year for most patients. These patients will also be able to receive treatment directly from their doctors, simplifying their access to treatments.
Seven thousand patients over the next three years will be subject to the test, for both drugs that doctors say are equally effective. Unlike other provinces, the doctors won’t have a financial incentive to pick one over the other.
“It’s true that in other provinces or locations there has been incentivization for use of Avastin,” Tennant confirmed. “This program has no incentivization for choice of medication, we can use Avastin or Lucentis interchangeably.”
Patients will get the final say on which drug is used in treatment.