ABS-CBN News

Cancer-stricken Yolanda 'hero' wages battle for free drugs

Posted at | Updated as of 04/20/14 11:54 PM


MANILA - More than 3,200 netizens have joined in cancer-stricken firefighter Dario Raagas’ fight for free medicines from giant firm Novartis, which earlier used him for clinical trials.

In a petition on Change.org, Makati-based dentist Joy Margate Lee said: “He served as a first responder during super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), despite his struggle with leukemia. Now Dario Raagas needs your help as he battles to save his life.”

Raagas was the “guinea pig” for Novartis’ drug Glivec. His cancer became resistant to the drug, however.

His doctors later told him to try Tasigna, which came at a hefty price tag of P30,000 a month.

“I almost fainted when I received the e-mail [saying] Novartis was going to charge me P30,000 a month to use Tasigna,” Raagas told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Raagas, who earns around P30,000 a month, was forced to take cheaper medicines that caused his skin and fingernails to turn black.

Despite this, Raagas went on duty to help coordinate rescue operations during super typhoon Yolanda’s wrath in November.

At present, his leukemia is now at the “accelerated stage."

“Let us ask Novartis Healthcare Philippines (NHP) and its mother company, Novartis, to provide for free the medicine Dario needs to survive,” Lee said.

“Please join me in fighting for Dario’s life by signing this petition. Let us ask Novartis Healthcare Philippines (NHP) and its mother company, Novartis, to provide for free the medicine Dario needs to survive,” she said.

Foundation reacts

However, The Max Foundation clarified that its partnership with Novartis was never meant as a clinical trial for patients with cancer.

In an e-mail sent to ABS-CBNnews.com, the foundation's head Pat Garcia-Gonzalez wrote: “For the past 12 years, my organization has been the global administrator of Novartis’ (Glivec International Patient Assistance Program)… GIPAP is an access program set up by Novartis in 2002 to help patients receive Glivec in certain countries including the Philippines."

"The GIPAP program is not and never has been a clinical trial," Garcia-Gonzalez stressed.

Here is the letter in full:

I would like to provide you with background information on the program that allowed Dario Raagas to access Glivec for 9 years, and clarify that this program called the Glivec International Patient Assistance Program (GIPAP) is not a clinical trial. In absence of a national reimbursement scheme which would normally cover partly or in full the medicine costs for cancer patients, Novartis provided the treatment for free during the past 9 years. As a longtime advocate on behalf of people living with cancer in the Philippines and beyond, I respectfully request that you provide clarification to your readers.

My name is Pat Garcia-Gonzalez and I am the Head of The Max Foundation www.themaxfoundation.org. For the past 12 years my organization has been the global administrator of Novartis’ GIPAP, the program that provided access to Glivec to Dario Raagas for nine years. GIPAP is an access program set up by Novartis in 2002 to help patients receive Glivec in certain countries including the Philippines.

An important role, among others, that The Max Foundation continues to play in this program is protection of the private information of patients. We are the sole entity that has access to this information and we are not a research organization. Instead, The Max Foundation is a global health organization that believes that all people living with cancer have the right to access the best treatment and support. By partnering with industry, government agencies, health care providers, national cancer patient organizations, and others, we are able to provide effective solutions for access to treatment. Through personalized access services, quality training and education, and global advocacy efforts, we aim to help people face cancer with dignity and hope.

As the administrators of GIPAP, we manage the medical and private patient information received by their treating physicians only to coordinate the treatment of each patient with their health care provider. As an access program, it was set in place only after approval by FDA and European Health authorities with the goal of providing access to Glivec treatment. At the time Mr. Raagas accessed treatment, the drug was also approved by the Philippine FDA. The GIPAP program is not and never has been a clinical trial.

Together with our local partner, Touched by Max, we work tirelessly to ensure that people living with CML in the Philippines have access to care, information and support. You can help us ensure that the information online for public consumption is accurate in order not to create panic in the patient community. Touched by Max is a local patient support organization for people living with CML and GIST in the Philippines. The organization was founded and is run by a group of patientsand caregivers, and works closely with The Max Foundation to extend support and information to their members.

For people living with CML who are in need of a second generation treatment after Glivec, there are several treatment options. One of the options is an approved drug called Tasigna, a treatment also made by Novartis. Tasigna can be accessed in the Philippines through an access solution called Novartis Oncology Access (NOA).

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need any further information. I am grateful for this opportunity to address this issue, and thank you for your support of people living with cancer in the Philippines.

With kind regards,

Pat Garcia-Gonzalez
President and Chief Executive Officer, The Max Foundation