New Brunswick

N.B. will fund costly colon cancer drug

The New Brunswick government will spend $3.4 million annually on an expensive drug that fights colorectal cancer.
The New Brunswick government announced Tuesday it will fund Avastin under the provincial drug program. ((CBC))
The New Brunswick government will spend $3.4 million annually on an expensive drug that fights colorectal cancer.

New Brunswick was one of two provinces that had refused to pay for Avastin, a medication that will be now be funded by the provincial drug plan. 

Health Minister Mary Schryer announced the decision to pay for the costly drug Tuesday morning at an event organized by the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada. The announcement was met with a standing ovation.

Along with funding the drug, the province will design a new colorectal-cancer screening program, Schryer said.

"There is no reason why we should not be detecting diseases such as colon cancer before they get worse," Schryer said in a media statement.

"We know colorectal cancer screening is a critical weapon in the fight against a disease that can be prevented. This is why we are committed to establishing a provincewide screening program."

Starting Dec. 1, Avastin will be available to eligible patients as part of the province's drug plans.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the province. Roughly 540 people in New Brunswick will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2009, according to the province.

Andrew Goodridge and his wife, Rosemary, at a Toronto hospital where he recently had surgery. ((CBC))
Ellen Snider, the senior manager of public issues for the Canadian Cancer Society in New Brunswick, said it was a positive first step.

"We have a large number of New Brunswickers with other cancers that are needing drugs that they also can't afford, so we need to continue to work towards equal access for all New Brunswickers," she said.

A Fredericton man battling colon cancer fought to have the province fund the cancer drug.

Andrew Goodridge already spends roughly $6,300 a month on Avastin, which he has been paying for through the fundraising efforts of his family and friends. His "tangerine-sized tumour" disappeared and made him eligible for surgery in Toronto earlier this month.

Goodridge said he was glad to learn the drug would be funded and that the battle to make that happen was lengthy.

"A standing ovation for coming in second last in the country in covering this drug is a little premature," he said.

"I'd like to see a standing ovation when we're … kind of in the middle of the pack when it comes to provincial drug coverage."

Prince Edward Island is now the only province that does not cover Avastin in its drug plans.