In a joint effort, GlaxoSmithKline and Hong Kong Cancer Fund have established the Cancer Drug Relief Fund, a $5.4 million three-year pilot project dedicated to offering financial assistance by way of subsidized cancer drugs to low income patients and those in the “sandwich class.”
“Families in these groups are financially stretched in the best of times so when they are faced with cancer and the additional costs of treatment their financial situation often becomes dire,” explained Sally Lo, founder and chief executive, Hong Kong Cancer Fund. “The Cancer Drug Relief Fund came about due to a much needed gap in our cancer support services. With more and more families coming to us for help, it is my hope that this fund will help us lessen the financial burden of cancer.”
Cancer ranks first among top life-threatening diseases in Hong Kong. A substantial number of patients in Hong Kong suffering from cancer who are urgently in need of effective medications that may not be covered by the current medical subsidy of the government.
The Cancer Drug Relief Fund will help subsidize two types of drugs, namely Topotecan for cervical, ovarian and small cell lung cancer and Lapatinib for breast cancer. These drugs help cancer patients with symptom control and prolongation of progression free survival, giving patients an improved quality of life. In many cases, the average cost for a full course of these cancer treatments can exceed $2,500 per month. This is similar to the median monthly household income in Hong Kong, making the drugs unaffordable for those in the sandwich class.
“Clinically, these two drugs are more efficient in controlling tumor growth, delaying the disease progression, relieving symptoms and reducing complications, in those patients who failed to respond well to the traditional chemotherapy,” said professor Chan Tak Cheung, head of the department of clinical oncology, Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Simple guidelines have been established for doctors and patients to follow that can enable the fund to render the assistance to cancer-burdened patients quickly, within 14 working days from application. To be eligible for the fund, applicants must be permanent residents of Hong Kong, be able to provide financial proof of their circumstance and must have a referral from their doctor that states they have been prescribed Topotecan or Lapatinib.
The Cancer Drug Relief Fund will, in its best efforts, try to cover the entire course of treatment as needed by the individual applicant. For the low income group, 100% of the treatment cost will be covered and for the sandwich class, 80% of the treatment cost will be covered and the applicant will pay the remaining 20%.
Over a three year period, the fund is expected to provide support to 600 individuals at a quota of 200 cases per year.