Prince Rupert man Mark Bell has received the good news Big Pharma corporation Novartis will cover his costs of cancer-related gene therapy. (Photo: Facebook supplied)

Prince Rupert man Mark Bell has received the good news Big Pharma corporation Novartis will cover his costs of cancer-related gene therapy. (Photo: Facebook supplied)

Big Pharma comes through for Prince Rupert man with cancer

International drug giant Novartis may cover the cost of medication on a case by case basis

Big Pharma company Novartis Pharmaceuticals has come through for a local Prince Rupert area man who is undergoing treatment for Stage 4 lung cancer.

Novartis is taking care of Mark Bell’s medication costs which are over $16,580.30 per month and not covered under provincial health care.

The Swiss-owned pharmaceutical giant with its Canadian headquarters in Montreal, told The Northern View that funding for each patient is considered on an individual basis.

“Novartis is dedicated to improving the lives of people living with cancer and to help Canadian patients have access to Novartis medicines when they need them,” Simona Sappia, head of communications and engagement at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada, said on Aug. 16.

The company may provide financial assistance for Novartis medications that are not yet funded by the provincial government, following a thorough evaluation and ensuring specific eligibility criteria are met.

“We do evaluate individual patient needs on a case-by-case basis when we receive an unsolicited request from a treating physician for someone who has a serious or life-threatening disease or condition for which currently funded treatment options have been exhausted,” Sappia said.

A Go-Fund-Me account for Bell was set up by Eryn Price on Aug.1 and generated more than the monthly drug cost from community donations during the first 24 hours the campaign was online. As of Aug. 16, the total amount raised is $38, 650.

“These drugs are promising,” Price stated on the Go-Fund-Me page. “He is part of the three per cent that has a rare genetic match to have success. This is not a ‘shotgun’ approach.

“It is targeted gene therapy that goes after the specific genes or cells that help cancer grow and survive,” Price explained.

Novartis stated they could not speak about individual patients due to confidentiality, however, they offer a combination of medication, Tafinlar capsules used with Mekinist tablets, that can be used to treat a type of cancer called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that has spread to other parts of the body and has a certain type of gene.

Sappia said the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health (CADTH) has completed its drug reimbursement review for this type of treatment and issued a positive recommendation for this in June.

“Novartis is working to ensure eligible Canadians with NSCLC access this therapy and is committed to working with the Pan Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (pCPA) on behalf of the provinces to make this therapy available through public funding,” Sappia added.

In the interim, Novartis and the drug manufacturers work with patients singly regarding assistive finances.

According to a Facebook update by the Cassiar Cannery in Port Edward – with whom Bell and his family are associated – Bell received his first treatment on Aug. 12 and Novartis will pick up the cost of the gene therapy starting next month until he stops the treatment.

“What a 13-day roller coaster. First faced with these absurd costs, together with friends, family and community rallied to cover four months of medication in 11 days along with four fundraisers in the works,” Cassiar Cannery posted on its social media page.

“We all rallied for the first month. On the 13th day — Friday 13th ironically, big pharma came through. Not the BC Cancer Centre, but Novartis. This juggernaut of a pharmaceutical company did not have to do this – but they did. Thank you,” the Facebook post stated, on Aug. 12

“This is Mark’s last chance. He’s tried everything: diet, exercise, naturopathy, immunotherapy, radiation, chemotherapy, counselling, energy work, and supplements,” Price said.

“This could be the miracle we have been waiting for at the 11th hour…”

K-J Millar | Journalist 
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