Genetic tests for cancer treatment to be covered by health insurance in Japan

The health ministry decided on Wednesday that genetic tests to help cancer patients identify the best drugs and therapies for their treatment will be covered by the public health insurance system in Japan.
Insurance coverage for genomic testing, starting from Saturday, will be applied to patients who have not responded to conventional cancer treatment. Patients will only have to pay 10 to 30 percent of the fees, which would otherwise cost several hundred thousand yen.
In Japan, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry approved in December the marketing of cancer genome profiling systems that detect gene mutations in cancer patients by analyzing their tumor tissue.
Two systems -- one developed by the National Cancer Center and health instrument maker Sysmex Corp and another sold by Chugai Pharmaceutical Co -- are capable of profiling over 100 types of cancer-related genes in a single test, according to the entities.
Without insurance coverage, the fee for testing using either product would be 560,000 yen ($5,100).
The financial burden on patients can be further reduced if they obtain medical benefits offered to individuals who have exceeded the cap for monthly medical expenses.
Patients eligible for insurance coverage are those suffering from solid cancers, which exclude cancers of the blood, and have not responded to surgery and anticancer drug treatment, as well as patients with rare cancers, and pediatric cancer patients.
It is expected that up to 26,000 people will use genomic profiling annually, with annual sales of the products totaling around 15 billion yen.
Patients can provide tumor tissue specimens for testing at 11 hospitals playing a key role in cancer genomic medicine and 156 other hospitals across the country.
Experts will assess drugs that will be effective in the treatment of patients and the findings will be conveyed to each patient through the doctors in charge.
The health ministry will also ask the hospitals to submit the anonymized results of the genomic profiling to a national cancer research center, after obtaining patients' consent.
The accumulated information is expected to be utilized for the development of new treatments.

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