Mr. Speaker, in my recent question to the Minister of Health, I indicated that many Canadians suffer from multiple sclerosis. In fact, 50,000 Canadians have MS. However, through medical research a number of drugs have recently been developed which have proven to be effective in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
One of these drugs is betaseron. In the United States this drug has been used to treat certain forms of MS for well over one year. Here in Canada there are over 15,000 Canadians with MS who could benefit from betaseron.
Unfortunately, access to betaseron in Canada has been impeded because the health protection branch of Health Canada has yet to conclude its review of the drug. Betaseron is currently only available from the federal government's emergency drug release program at a cost of $17,000 or more for a year's supply.
In the province of Ontario, the provincial government recently announced that it will soon be expanding its drug funding program to help those who require expensive medication. However, while those who require betaseron would then qualify for assistance, the drug itself will not be eligible until the review has been completed.
I realize the health protection branch has specific guidelines to follow when any new drug is submitted for its approval to be distributed in Canada. Moreover, I am not suggesting that the integrity of the review process be compromised in any way, shape or form.
The reviews undertaken by the health protection branch of any new drug are vital to ensuring the safety of Canadians. Nonetheless, Canadians who suffer from MS are understandably anxious to obtain greater access to affordable betaseron. They are also frustrated by the slowness of the review, especially since the health protection branch has agreed to use the so-called fast track approach.
Berlex Canada Inc., the company which applied for the betaseron review did so back in February 1994. Yet over a year later, the review is still ongoing.
It was my hope from the question I asked the Minister of Health that she could provide additional information on the progress of the review of this drug. Given the important role this review plays in bringing about greater access to affordable betaseron, I know the minister would agree that the sooner this review is completed the better it will be for those Canadians who suffer from MS.