Drug firm Novartis to help Leyte firefighter
MANILA, Philippines—The Swiss-based pharmaceutical transnational manufacturer of a leukemia drug has promised to help a Leyte firefighter afflicted with the cancer to get access to the expensive medication he needs.
Novartis Healthcare Philippines (NHP), the local subsidiary of Novartis, said it will work with the doctor of Dario Raagas—the afflicted firefighter who despite his deteriorating health remained on duty when Supertyphoon Yolanda struck in Tacloban City last November—and with the government and non-government agencies concerned to help him with his treatment.
The 43-year-old Raagas, diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) since age 30, has been shifted to Tasigna (generic name: Nilotinib), an expensive Novartis medication used to treat his condition, when he became resistant to his old medication, Glivec.
Not a clinical trial
The NHP has denied Raagas’ claim, clarifying that beneficiaries of the Novartis Oncology Access (NOA) program were entitled to “a portion of the cost of their full-year Glivec and Tasigna treatment which they cannot afford to pay.”
It said Raagas is currently a NOA beneficiary.
“Mr. Raagas was not a subject of a clinical trial as he claims … Glivec was already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and the Philippine FDA at the time the patient received this treatment,” said Christine Fajardo, NHP corporate affairs and market access head.
Fajardo also noted that Gipap was not a clinical trial but one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching cancer patient access programs implemented by the pharmaceutical firm on a global scale.
She clarified that Raagas was enrolled in Gipap in 2004 and received Glivec free of charge for nine years. But his doctor shifted him to Tasigna when he developed a resistance to Glivec.
In 2008, Novartis broadened Gipap and established the NOA program to allow underprivileged Filipino patients with cancer gain access to effective treatment.
It was also aimed at bridging the gap in cancer care in the country until such time that the state-owned Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) is about to launch its cancer-care benefits package, Fajardo said.
“It works on a principle of partnership in which patients who have the capacity to contribute to the cost of their treatment help Novartis sustain the free treatment of patients who have no financial capability,” she explained.
People afflicted with CML have a compromised ability to ward off diseases because their bone marrow produces abnormal levels of white blood cells.
In an earlier interview, Raagas claimed that Novartis had abandoned him after being its “guinea pig” for Glivec for eight years under the Swiss company’s Glivec International Patient Assistance Program (Gipap).
He also said he received an email from Novartis notifying him that he would be charged P30,000 a month for Tasigna.
The difference between Gipap and NOA is that beneficiaries of the former do not undergo financial eligibility assessment while beneficiaries of the latter have to pass a financial eligibility screening conduced by an independent third party, Fajardo said.
“Based on their financial eligibility screening, NOA beneficiaries contribute a specified amount for the cost of their cancer treatment,” she said.
“We are sorry to hear about the plight of Mr. Raagas. [NHP] is committed to work with his doctor and concerned government agencies and NGOs to help [him] access his much-needed Novartis medication,” said Fajardo.
“All over the world, Novartis supports multi-stakeholder initiatives and continuously explores ways with partner government institutions such as PhilHealth and PCSO (the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office) to improve patient access to health care,” she added.
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