Young woman standing against shelf in pharmacy searching for medicine

U of T nursing researcher examines prevalence of drug manufacturer sponsored patient support programs

27 November 2023

Researchers at the University of Toronto have found that 1 in 10 prescription drugs currently marketed in Canada have a patient support program in place that is sponsored by the drug manufacturer.

The study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that these programs are often concentrated around higher cost, brand name or branded generic medications, in addition to those for rare diseases.

For example, though only about 10 per cent of drugs currently on the market are for rare diseases or classified as “biologicals” because they are manufactured using biological materials (such as blood products or insulin), nearly 54 per cent of the medications that include this type of patient support program were biologicals and 46 per cent were drugs for rare diseases.

Patient support programs are designed and intended to help patients initiate and sustain clinical treatment on a particular brand of drug. Patients can be referred by their health care provider or self-enroll in the program which provides them with financial supports, including navigating insurance reimbursement, and nursing care that might take the form of injection training, case management, additional health teaching, and counseling.

However, according to Quinn Grundy, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, there is a significant and limited understanding of how these industry sponsored patient support programs provide value to patients or further impact the health system.

“When I set out to study patient support programs, apart from a few studies where drug companies studied the outcomes of their own patient support programs, I could not identify how many programs exist, which drugs had a patient support program, or what kind of supports were offered. Without this information, it is difficult for patients to navigate their options and for Canadians to evaluate whether these drugs provide value for their high cost,” say Grundy.

Read more about the study’s findings in The Globe and Mail

Using a cross-sectional study, the researchers were able to identify all the marketed prescription drugs on the Canadian market as of August 23, 2022, and then, to identify how many had a patient support program using publicly available, patient support program websites, enrolment forms, and promotional materials.

Profile of Quinn Grundy
Assistant Professor Quinn Grundy

In addition to their finding that 10 per cent of prescription drugs marketed had a patient support program in place, the researchers also found that drugs priced in the range of $10.01 to $100.00 per unit were nearly eight times more likely to have a patient support program than those priced between $1.00 and 10.00. It was also uncovered that there appeared to be a duplication of some services as companies offered different patient support programs for different brands of the same drug.

“Care delivery whether in a public or privately funded health system, should be organized around a health need not a therapeutic product or medication,” says Grundy. “Given the current shortage of health human resources, these are important considerations for policy-makers to be aware of in evaluating the cost-effectiveness of such programs.”

Overall, the lack of transparency and data available in relation to these patient support programs is something that the researchers conclude makes it difficult for policymakers to evaluate this method of care. If they are intended to add complementary value to a drug and support medication adherence, more research is needed to assess whether the programs are in fact enhancing clinical outcomes, patient experience or quality of life.

“Manufacturers may be filling important gaps in our publicly funded health systems with these support programs however, I think we should be asking whether these support programs are the optimal model to address the health needs of patients taking these prescription medications,” says Grundy.