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Precision medicine: A revolutionary way to treat cancer

It’s time that our governments addressed the fragmented health-care systems and complex regulatory and pricing models that are blocking access to the innovative therapies people living with cancer need to survive. There is a revolution underway in the way we treat cancer.

Instead of the traditional “cut and burn” approach to cancer treatment, precision medicine—or precision oncology—is allowing us to take targeted aim at tumours, reducing side effects and damage to healthy cells, as well as increasing the odds that the treatment works. It also means that the right cancer treatment gets to the right patient, at the right dose, at the right time. 

There’s more potential than ever before for cancer patients to live longer, enjoy a better quality of life and, most importantly, survive this devastating disease. Except for many Canadians who live with cancer, complex regulatory and approval pricing models and fragmented health-care systems make these innovative therapies impossible
to access. This needs to change.

In our recently released report, Getting Better, Faster: The Case for Optimizing Access to Precision Medicines in the Wake of the Revolution in Cancer Care, we outline several government policies that are slowing the advancement of precision oncology in Canada and the steps to overcome them.

One of the biggest barriers is our long and complicated regulatory approval process for new therapies—especially compared to other OECD countries. An overly bureaucratic process wraps clinical trial design and monitoring in red tape, slowing Health Canada approvals. The result is Canadians are denied treatments available elsewhere. Our outdated process of setting prices for new drugs in Canada, as well as poor real-world data collection,- notably in Ontario and Quebec, are roadblocks

Also, each province and territory has its own eligibility criteria, funding rules and list of treatments covered. This is especially problematic for precision oncology oral drug treatments, which are often taken at home which some jurisdictions do not cover. The federal government’s long-promised pharmacare plan could help alleviate regional disparities along with mutually-negotiated arrangements with the pharmaceutical industry that align with our health-care priorities.

It is time our governments also employed a model of value-based health care with value measured for the patient, and not just the health plan, hospital, doctor or employer. The focus should be on improving patients’ lives, measuring not just outcomes, but also critical factors like recovery time and quality of life.

Cancer patients do not have the luxury of time. They need access to treatment advances, including precision medicine—now.

Their lives depend on it. 

Louise Binder is the health policy consultant for Save Your skin Foundation. Martine Elias is the executive director of Myeloma Canada. They are co-authors of Getting Better, Faster: The Case for Optimizing Access to Precision Medicines in the Wake of the Revolution in Cancer Care.

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