Important New Cancer Treatments Approved by Health Canada Marred by Major Provincial Reality Disconnect for Patients

Below is a press release issued by the Save Your Skin Foundation in regards to how patient access to innovative new cancer treatments is seriously limited by provincial funding recommendations across Canada. 

TORONTO – NOVEMBER 22, 2016 – Health Canada recently conditionally approved an advanced new treatment option for Canadians battling metastatic melanoma. The treatment consists of a combination of two immuno-oncology agents: Opdivo + Yervoy, the first combination in the immunotherapy space. While many applauded the approval, numerous patients and doctors are holding their breath to see what provincial recommendations will come if approved for reimbursement by the pan-Canadian Oncology Drug Review (pCODR). Across Canada, cancer patients are being restricted to access to innovative new treatments due to funding recommendations made by health technology assessment agencies and provinces. Over the past year, patient access to some cancer treatments approved by Health Canada have been seriously limited as the result of these recommendations.

In June 2016 the first PD-1 immuno-oncology treatment for melanoma, Keytruda, was listed to the provincial formulary with a recommendation to fund either Keytruda or Yervoy, but not both – so that anyone having received either of these treatments through standard treatment or in a clinical trial as of June 2, 2016 would not have access to any other immuno-oncology treatment, regardless of having two distinct mechanisms of action. Meaning any patient who does not respond to one immunotherapy has no opportunity to access a second line therapy option (in the BRAF wildtype population).

Many more immuno-oncology drugs are currently in review, including a number aimed at treating non small cell lung cancer, the number one cause of cancer related deaths in Canadians and women. The Save Your Skin Foundation, along with other patient advocacy groups, are exceedingly concerned about what recommendations these approvals will come with and how they will affect access to important, potentially lifesaving therapies.

Kathy Barnard, Founder of the Save Your Skin Foundation, owes her survival of metastatic melanoma to Yervoy, which she received in a clinical trial, after failing on all previous treatments. “Finally, after 30 years, we are seeing innovative treatments that are helping patients live longer, but when provinces make funding recommendations that limit treatment options for patients, we are no further advanced than we were 30 years ago when no treatment options existed at all,” says Barnard. “We’re hearing from patients all over the country who are not getting the drugs they need and they don’t know why.”

It is not known yet what the funding recommendations on this new combination drug will be, however, currently in Canada, Yervoy, a CTLA-4 checkpoint inhibitor, as a single agent treatment, has now been restricted across all provinces – the only country in the world where this is the situation. “With this, we find Canada one step forward and two steps back, leaving some patients without access to the treatment they need. There is a clear lack of transparency as well as a lack of innovation in the approval process that is in stark contrast with the ever-evolving developments we are seeing in the treatment of cancer,” expressed Barnard.

Barnard goes on to state that health technology assessment (HTA) agencies, governments and manufacturers must work together with oncologists to find strategies that translate to the best course of treatment for patients. “We need to work together to find innovative solutions that ensure breakthrough treatments are available to all patients, while also reducing time delays, in order to keep our health care system sustainable,” said Barnard. “Cancer patients need to have access to cancer drug options, and access needs to be available from within the communities where they live.”

Key Opinion Leaders and patients, both those on the treatment and in desperate need of the treatment, are available for comment.

About the Save Your Skin Foundation

The Save Your Skin Foundation is a Canadian registered not-for-profit that supports those touched by skin cancer by helping patients to navigate their journey through informed, compassionate care and personalized support to those touched by melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Through programs and outreach, we support education and ongoing awareness about skin cancer, from prevention to survivorship. The Foundation also acts as a conduit for health care professionals and patients in the Canadian health technology assessment and reimbursement landscape. Please visit for more information.