British Columbia

B.C. to cover $1-million-per-year drug for Victoria girl, 3, with rare, fatal disease

The parents of Charleigh Pollock, 3, said the province has granted them access to a promising new medication that is not covered by B.C.'s public health system.

Charleigh Pollock has the only B.C. case of CLN2 disease, which causes brain damage

Charleigh Pollock, 3, was diagnosed with CLN2 disease in mid-May, after suffering her first seizure eight months ago. (Trevor Pollock/Facebook)

A Victoria family says the province has agreed to cover a life-saving, million-dollar drug for their young daughter. 

The parents of Charleigh Pollock, 3, said the province has granted them access to Brineura, a promising new medication that has received federal approval but is not covered by B.C.'s public health system.

Their daughter suffers from CLN2 or Batten disease, a rare and fatal genetic disorder that results in multiple seizures each day and eventually leads to brain damage.

She is the only person in British Columbia with the disease and one of 13 children in Canada with the condition, the family says. Most children who have it die between the ages of six and 12.

The case went before the province's independent drug review committee, which agreed to fund the treatment for Charleigh.

"We are in shock. We're excited. We're nervous. We have every emotion going on right now," said Jori Fales, Charleigh's mother, in an online video posted Friday.

The case highlights a growing class of drugs that the B.C. health ministry has described as "expensive drugs for rare diseases." 

In Oct. 2018, the province covered the cost of 16 expensive drugs for rare disease, with list prices ranging from $100,000 to $3 million.

The ministry declined to comment on Charleigh's case, citing patient privacy.

'The first step'

Charleigh's family learned of her diagnosis three weeks ago and launched a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the costly treatment, also known as enzyme replacement therapy.

Patients with CLN2 are missing an enzyme which leads to brain damage. Brineura, administered every two weeks through a tube into the brain, helps replace that missing enzyme.

 
Charleigh's parents, Trevor and Jori, shared the update in an online video. (Facebook)

The treatment is new and costs more than $1 million a year. But clinical trials have shown promising results, the family says.

It will slow Charleigh's rapid deterioration until a cure is found, they say.

The girl suffered an unexplained seizure, the first sign of the disease, eight months ago.

As the disease worsens, a child will go blind and lose the ability to walk and speak. They eventually develop dementia and lose all cognitive function.

So far, Charleigh, who's a few weeks shy of her fourth birthday, is still walking and can say a few words. She's being nourished with a feeding tube.

She will have to endure infusions and brain surgery in the months ahead, said Trevor Pollock, Charleigh's father, in the video.

"This is the first step in a long journey ahead for our family."

With files from Megan Thomas

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