Welcome to 2020! I am so very pleased to start the year off by welcoming our new Executive Director, Falyn Katz. Falyn joins Melanoma Network of Canada (MNC) with a significant level of senior fundraising and leadership experience in the cancer care sector. Most recently, she worked with Prostate Cancer Canada as Senior Director, Philanthropy, where she elevated corporate, individual and event fundraising, while building the brand and expanding the organization’s reach. Falyn is looking forward to learning about our organization and the challenges we face specific to melanoma and skin cancer. She has a personal connection to the disease which gives her an increased passion and commitment to make a difference for families facing melanoma and skin cancer.
This New Year brings great anticipation for progress in the treatment of melanoma and skin cancers, like cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC). We have been anxiously awaiting provincial listings for adjuvant therapies for melanoma – in particular the adjuvant (for stage III fully resected patients), targeted therapy combination of Dabrafenib and Trametinib, and the adjuvant immunotherapies – Pembrolizumab and Nivolumab. While all of these therapies received positive recommendations from the federal pan-Canadian Oncology Drug Review (pCODR) and the pCODR Expert Review Committee (pERC) reviews, and all but Pembrolizumab have concluded price negotiations by the provinces, we are still waiting for the majority of the provinces to list the treatments for coverage in their respective drug formularies.
The concern for the patient community is that compassionate access programs for adjuvant therapy provided by the pharmaceutical companies either have ended or are ending shortly. Compassionate access is a bridging program the drug companies most often offer to cover the period while pCODR reviews are taking place and price negotiations. The programs bridge the gap waiting for provincial approval and provide patients with drug access free of charge. However, when the program ends, there is a gap in access to treatment. Patients on the program can continue, but no new enrollments are accepted. This really creates a problem for patients and their families and contributes to high levels of stress and anxiety, not to mention the risk of disease recurring.
We are working on these issues on your behalf. Merck Canada has extended their compassionate access program for adjuvant treatment Pembrolizumab until the end of March, at which time we are hoping for quick end to price negotiations and as quick provincial acceptance for coverage. Ontario announced this week that they are covering the targeted therapy combination for adjuvant use, and British Colombia has already done so. We are waiting for provinces to list Nivolumab for adjuvant use. Please check our website for updates or call us directly. As always, your individual coverage may vary depending on your province or private insurance carrier. Check with your oncologist for your individual options.
Cemiplimab (Libtayo) for the treatment of metastatic cSCC received a positive recommendation from pCODR in early January. Final recommendations and then price negotiations are expected shortly. This is incredibly good news for those patients who are so negatively affected by metastatic cSCC, as it is the first really effective treatment beyond surgery and radiation to be made available for this often overlooked patient group. MNC prepared a strong submission in support of approval and we know all of those who participated made a real difference in the positive recommendation.