The plot sounds like a slick Hollywood script: a selfless patient who channels his own desperation into fighting for access to medicines for a group of cancer patients. In China, however, this desperation can be more reality than fiction.

‘Dying to Survive’ was an unlikely blockbuster hit in China earlier this year, created on a shoestring budget and documenting the plight of a leukemia patient who puts himself at risk to import costly cancer drugs for himself and his fellow countrymen.

The film has received much acclaim all over China because at the core of the story is an ongoing and pervasive issue: market access delays for Chinese patients. In this case, forcing a man to use questionable methods to make the medicines available.

Not all cases have to follow the same journey, however. TheSocialMedwork continuously works with Chinese patients to help them access the latest approved medicines.

Despite recent policy reform that aims to speed up market access, the Chinese market still has significant access delays when compared with other countries. One of the issues is the reluctance of Chinese FDA to approve medicines based on foreign clinical data (the same applies for the EMA). This means that a medicine may not be approved unless a study has been conducted within China, with Chinese participants. This leads to delays with oftentimes leaves Chinese patients in urgent need empty-handed.

Acute shortages within government regulatory and review departments may also be a contributing factor. Another is a tendency to favour local pharmaceutical manufacturers.

TheSocialMedwork’s team of pharmacists and logistics experts has experienced the challenge of helping Chinese patients access medicines.

Requests from Chinese patients are generally for innovative anti-cancer medicines, such as Opdivo, Keytruda and Zejula, all approved in the US and Europe years ago, but none of which approved in China, but may have important benefits in the treatment journey of the Chinese patients as well.

“We deal with requests from all over the world, but China has been one of the most challenging examples so far,” says qualified pharmacist and customer support manager Marta Enes.

“There is bureaucracy involved and some of the processes are complex and difficult to understand,” says Enes. “Part of our role is to ensure we support the patient or their treating doctor in every way possible to connect them to the medicine the treating doctor thinks they need, and alleviate the amount of paperwork they have to do.”

Unlike ‘Dying to Survive’, Enes and a team of pharmacists ensure all deliveries and imports into China are 100% legal, but it often doesn’t run as smoothly as a movie plot. There are also regional considerations, as regulations differ from mainland China to Hong Kong.

“Our goal is to work together with treating doctors, hospitals, local regulators and customs , to ensure every patient has access to the latest approved medicines. We understand and relate to the desperation a patient feels, or a person feels if a loved one falls ill and they can’t access the best treatment.”

Enes and TheSocialMedwork team now work to bridge the gap between approvals of medicines by one reliable, regulatory body and availability for doctors and patients around the world.

“Until there is a globalised, harmonised system that prevents market access delays, we’ll continue to be hard at work — both with patients and doctors in China and beyond.”