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The dollars and sense of choosing a new drug

At a glance
The challenge

Drug production is a costly enterprise

The solution

Economic model to weigh benefits against costs of a new drug

The outcome

New treatment for uterine fibroids rewards investment

What's next?

New drug could be approved for provincial health coverage across Canada

Getting a big bang for your buck is important for any investment, but especially for Canada’s provincial governments that have to be careful about adding new drugs to their healthcare systems. Drug companies conduct rigorous trials to prove the health benefits of their new products, but it’s also worth their while to do research into the economic value. Thanks to Mitacs Accelerate, one company has been able to get some expert help to show that its new drug is worth considering.

When Actavis Specialty Pharmaceuticals Co. developed a new drug to treat uterine fibroids — benign tumors in a woman’s uterus — it partnered with Accelerate intern Bernice Tsoi to help create an economic model of the product. As a Health Research Methodology PhD student at McMaster University, conducting a thorough analysis of the drug’s costs and benefits was right up Bernice’s alley.

“After understanding the clinical values of the drug, I had to look at other aspects,” says Bernice. “This included all the associated expenses, such as the price of the drug, the cost of pharmacies dispensing it, and how many times patients would need to visit the doctor or hospital — or miss work — when taking it. Then I had to factor in benefits like how much money would be saved — in the healthcare system, and for employers — by having a treatment that might get more women back to work sooner.”

From there, Bernice had to create an economic model to weigh those benefits and costs against each other.

This was a challenge because I had to build new formulas from scratch,” says Bernice. “But in the end, the calculations showed the new drug was cheaper and more clinically effective than existing treatments.”

“Health technology assessment agencies require an economic evaluation as part of the drug review process — this is critical to the success of a drug when seeking public reimbursement through provincial insurance plans,” says Simon Ferrazzi, a Consultant at Actavis. “This was the first drug indicated by Health Canada for uterine fibroids, and it’s still the only one. In February 2014, Quebec became the first province to provide it to patients. We’re now talking with the other provinces.”

Bernice says she’s glad she had the opportunity to make a research contribution through Accelerate. “This project was really valuable. It yielded enough interesting information that Actavis set up a second internship for me. It’s really helped me see a practical side of research, and has opened the door to so many opportunities — we’ve published the results, presented them at a medical conference, and even won an award.”

Simon agrees that there’s a lot of benefit to Mitacs internships. “Connecting with academics and taking on a student makes more financial sense than going to an external research firm.”

Mitacs gratefully acknowledges the Government of Canada, the Networks of Centres of Excellence's Industrial Research and Development Internship program and the Government of Ontario for their support of Mitacs Accelerate in the province.