Building a more robust front against cancer

World Cancer Day was recently commemorated and, in Malta, this was marked with a national conference organised by the National Cancer Platform, which was also addressed by the president of Malta.

The crucial aspect of this event was the president’s justified call for more investment in cancer treatment, a call made against a backdrop of an increasing numbers of cancer patients.

This call came as Malta is seeing an average of 2,500 new cases of cancer every year. Although this figure is still below average when compared to European countries, it remains a fact that cancer has become the primary cause of 30 per cent of all deaths in our country.

Cancer is indeed a stark reality which we, too, are experiencing every day in our work where we have noticed that the cohort of patients is also becoming younger.

Within this context, the country is faced with a situation where, on one side, we know that the advancements in oncology treatment, thanks to new medicines and indications, have been increasing rapidly. In fact, in the past decade, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has been approving 10 new cancer medicines every year.

But, on the other hand, prices of oncology medicines have also increased and this is causing the problem of access to such new medications, which, albeit more targeted and with better patient outcomes, come at a cost sometimes prohibitive.

Because time is of vital essence when delivering oncology medications, it would be interesting to note how, in Malta, according to a recently published report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the time between marketing authorisation application and granting of coverage stands at 27 months when compared to four months in, say, Sweden, whereas the average total time from application for marketing authorisation to coverage ranged from nine months in Israel and 11 months in Japan, to 52 months in Malta.

In 2017, Malta introduced a specific oncology financial vote for new oncology medicines to be introduced on the government formulary list. While this was a good start, more needs to be done for patients to be able to access new medications before they are introduced in the government formulary list.

We can turn this challenge into an opportunity to build a more robust and united front against cancer.

Prices of oncology medicines have increased. Photo: Shutterstock.comPrices of oncology medicines have increased. Photo:

As important stakeholders in this mission, we encourage more dialogue between pharma operators and national stakeholders such as the government and the Malta Community Chest Fund.

It is by sitting round a table to discuss all the relevant issues that opportunities can be created and solutions found. Better dialogue can also build a much stronger bridge between local stakeholders and global manufacturers of treatment products. As leaders in the oncology sector, our willingness to play our part comes from a deep nurtured drive to remain committed to improving people’s quality of life.

As a thought provoker, is it perhaps the right time for the country to consider establishing a national cancer fund, a mechanism which is already in place in the UK with the tried-and-tested Cancer Drugs Fund?

First and foremost, a national cancer fund may provide a more centralised platform for the sourcing and distribution of funds for the procurement and provision of cancer-related medication.

A more centralised platform will also mean more transparency and better availability of resources, not to mention clearer and faster decision-making about which cancer drugs are available and the assessment about a drug’s effectiveness through data collection.

It will also alleviate the enormous pressures currently being faced by the Malta Community Chest Fund whose funds are mostly taken up by cancer drugs.

An officially recognised and centralised fund will not only allow earlier access to the newest treatments making sure that our patients get the most advanced treatment but it will also provide financial certainty with a fixed budget and a mechanism to control expenditure.

The battle against cancer is a battle fought together, which is why we hope the right debate can be kicked off by all stakeholders. As an active player in the pharmaceutical sector which has just commemorated our 70th anniversary, we remain committed to being part of this battle to ensure that the patient has access to the right medication, at the right time, at the right sustainable price, every time.

YAN GRIMA – general manager, Vivian Corporation, Msida

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