British Columbia Approves Lucentis Funding for Macular Degeneration

Source – The Canadian Press

VICTORIA, B.C. — The B.C. government will start funding two new drugs to treat people suffering from a disease that could cause blindness for seniors.

Health Minister George Abbott said Lucentis and Avastin will be available starting June 1 to patients dealing with age-related wet macular degeneration, with the recommendation of a retinal specialist.

B.C. currently funds only one drug – Visudyne – but it hasn’t proven effective for many seniors who’ve had to spend over $1,600 per treatment every six weeks for Lucentis.

Abbott said that besides slowing or stabilizing the disease, the newly funded drugs may even improve patients’ vision.

The announcement comes days before the B.C. election campaign officially begins April 14.

“The drugs have been under review for some time,” he said.

Ontario and Quebec already pay for the two drugs.

Abbott said Saskatchewan recently announced it would be funding only Lucentis while Manitoba will be footing the bill for Avastin.

Last December, public health authorities in Canada investigated a spike in eye inflammation among patients being treated for macular degeneration with the cancer drug Avastin.

The first cases were noticed in B.C. but Abbott said only one lot of the drug that was shipped worldwide – except to the United States – was responsible for the problem.

“It has not been a generalized problem with respect to Avastin,” he said.

Claude Dufour, 72, was thrilled to hear B.C. will be funding Lucentis. He said he has spent over $15,000 on it since last year.

The Kamloops, B.C., resident said his specialist tried the other two drugs but they didn’t work for him.

“Everybody that I talked to who’s taking Lucentis, it’s working,” said Dufour, who had already lost the sight in his right eye after macular degeneration struck over four years ago.

“In my right eye I was getting Avastin and I’m blind in my right eye,” he said.

Dufour said while he has been able to afford Lucentis up to now, he couldn’t have kept shelling out money for it.

He said he has been lobbying the government to fund the drugs to help seniors at risk of going blind.

“Last time I was at the hospital when I got an injection, there was a lady in her 80s and an older fellow and they couldn’t afford Lucentis,” he said. “She was getting the Avastin and she looked like she was going blind.”

Dufour said he’s angry the government waited until before an election to announce funding for the drugs.

“They’re hijacking seniors for their bloody election,” he said.

British Columbians go to the polls on May 12.

He said B.C. should have followed the lead of Ontario and Quebec to quickly approve vision-saving drugs.

Abbott said up to 3,500 British Columbians will receive one of the three treatment drugs each year to combat the disease that can quickly rob a senior of their eyesight.

The province expects to spend about $15 million a year on all three drugs.