British Columbia

B.C. government to cover expensive Parkinson's treatment family has pleaded for

Jenny Wood says she burst into tears upon learning the B.C. government will cover an expensive Parkinson's medication her mom needs.

After emotional plea from patients' families, B.C. government will cover drug on 'exceptional basis'

Patti Wood has advanced Parkinson's disease. Her daughter Jenny Wood says the symptoms can interfere with her breathing. (Jenny Wood)

When Jenny Wood first opened an email with the B.C. government announcement, she thought it was a hoax.

But when she realized earlier today it was real — and the B.C. government will now cover the Parkinson's drug her mom needs — she burst into tears.

"This is the news we just didn't think we would get," said Wood on the phone from Seattle, Wash. 

"This is what we've been fighting for."

Wood's mother, Patti, 59, lives in Victoria and was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Parkinson's disease in 2008.

The drug they've been fighting to get covered is called Duodopa, which delivers a combination of medications in a gel through an intestinal pump but at a high cost of $60,000 per year.

An oral medication with the same drug combination was already covered by B.C.'s PharmaCare plan but in a small number patients — including Wood — it doesn't act fast enough to relieve symptoms, said Wood.

When those symptoms include gasping for breath, waiting up to an hour and a half for relief is too long, said Wood.

"I spent my Christmas Eve trying to get my mom to breathe, she said.

"My mom is only 59 years old, but she looks and feels like she's 100 years old. She's bent over and exhausted and crippled and can't breathe."

Small number of patients helped

The government isn't providing blanket coverage of the pricey Duodopa medication, but will cover the drug "on an exceptional basis," for the small number of patients for whom other treatments don't work, said B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake in a release.

Physicians at the Pacific Parkinson's Research Centre at the University of B.C. will identify suitable patients and submit requests for coverage under the ministry's "special authority" program, according to a news release.

The Ministry of Health was unable to provide any further information about how patients would be selected or prioritized for coverage.

The government is also in discussions with the manufacturer, AbbVie, to explore ways to make the drug more affordable and plans to review Duodopa's use compared to other treatments.

It's an important win for Wood's family in its fight against a disease that's taken a physical, emotional and financial toll.

"I'm glad that we were all annoying enough that the government decided to just do it."

With files from Liz McArthur