Dying to Survive: How A Canadian Pharmacy Could Resolve the Search for Illegal Cancer Drugs

written by Skye Sherman - Jul 23, 2018

It’s not often that a Chinese movie dealing with social issues and criticizing the status quo is released, much less that such a movie becomes a smash hit in the box office. And it’s even less common for such an occurrence to spark policy change and legal reform.

But new Chinese comedy about drug importation, Dying to Survive, has quickly risen to the top of the charts and has grossed millions of dollars in the few weeks it has been out in theaters. It has also since generated changes in the way drugs are sold and made available to patients in China and in other countries. The movie is director Wen Muye’s feature film debut.

Dying to Survive Chinese movie

According to The Wall Street Journal, “A dark comedy dominating the Chinese box office this summer has tapped into public discontent about pharmaceutical costs, and is being linked to a new government effort to tamp down prices of cancer drugs.

The low-budget film has taken in nearly 2.5 billion yuan ($374 million) since its release July 5, already making it the No. 6 highest-grossing movie in Chinese box office history, according to Beijing-based research firm EntGroup.

In addition to filling theaters, Dying to Survive has sparked an outpouring of comments on social media. … Last week, the Chinese State Medical Insurance Bureau summoned representatives from 10 foreign and eight domestic pharmaceutical companies to begin preliminary discussions on cutting cancer drug prices, state media reported Sunday.

‘The timing of the movie and recent government actions to crack down on drug prices are not accidental,’ said Roger Liu, a former pharmaceutical industry executive who now runs his own drug-consulting firm.”

In the words of Inkstone News, “The Chinese government has vowed to speed up price cuts to cancer drugs after Dying to Survive, a film inspired by real-life stories of leukemia patients smuggling generic drugs from India, became the talk of the country.”

The direct impact of the movie on public policy in a notoriously strict country is garnering attention from around the world.

Dying to Survive: Based on a True Story of Finding Affordable Prescription Medications

Dying to Survive is a comedy-drama based on the true story of Lu Yong (??). Lu Yong is a leukemia patient in China who could not afford treatment for his disease, despite the fact that it was available and effective to tackle his condition. When he received a cancer diagnosis, Lu Yong was faced with two undesirable choices, as are many patients in China who share his same situation: simply wait to die, or drive his family into the ground trying to pay for his treatment.

Neither of these routes appealed to Lu Yong. So instead, he came up with a creative solution: he found a generic version of the cancer drug he needed and began importing these generic medicines from India. The medicine, Gleevec, was a fraction of the cost and a much more affordable treatment route, but it was unapproved by authorities and therefore not available in China for that price. Despite the risks, in 2004, Lu Yong began smuggling the life saving medicine into China and eventually ended up helping 1,000 Chinese cancer patients who were faced with his same dilemma. Unfortunately, Lu Yong was arrested for his actions and charged for selling “fake drugs,” but a petition that circulated among those whose lives he helped to save was able to get him released and his sentence lessened.

Now, with the movie Dying to Survive telling his story in a darkly comic way, Lu Yong’s legacy is generating major change in the way cancer patients in China can receive treatment. According to Hindustan Times, “Reports about Lu became national news and were widely discussed on China’s social media with many saying that he was a hero. It brought a sharp focus on the expensive cancer treatment in China with medicines purchased from western countries while the same drugs are available in India at much cheaper prices.”

This is important progress for China, where “Some 40% of the country’s healthcare spending is on drugs, a far higher share than in many countries [and] about a third of healthcare spending falls on individuals.” The high cost of prescription drug prices is an issue that many families across the financial spectrum will have to face. However, it’s uncommon for such a “flaw” in the Chinese system to be brought to light.

According to Bloomberg Opinion, “For China to let a movie go viral that reflects deep social problems is interesting, and begs two questions. One, why aren’t life-saving drugs included in the communist government’s insurance programs? Two, why are the likes of Pfizer and Roche Holding AG charging so much? China is addressing both issues. In a May article, the state-run China Daily boasted that leukemia patients now pay less than a quarter of the previous amount after Gleevec became eligible for reimbursement by the government. The country adds about 4 million cancer patients a year.”

Fortunately, the movie’s popularity has sparked change and hopefully will continue to.

Americans Face the Question of Drug Importation of Generic Cancer Drugs Too

The Chinese are not alone in their difficulty finding a way to pay for the cancer treatments that will save their life. Americans, too, have a hard time affording the exorbitant costs of cancer drugs and chemotherapy.

The Atlantic shares the story of one particular family who faced medical bills they couldn’t afford. Four-year-old Cassidy was diagnosed with a kidney tumor and in the quest to save her life, they soon owed thousands of dollars they didn’t have. The family was able to ask for help paying their medical bills from a local volunteer organization, but they wondered how others managed to pay for the treatment they needed.

“Cassidy quickly racked up more than several thousand dollars in out-of-pocket medical expenses—for the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, radiologists, chemotherapy, you name it—since the family’s insurance policy had a $6,000 deductible. A few months later… the family suddenly had to find money for COBRA payments, which, at $2,100 a month, were more than the monthly mortgage payment on their West Babylon, Long Island, home. … ‘The families get to the point where it’s, “What do I do? Do I pay the doctor bill because I’m getting collection notices? But I gotta pay my mortgage, I gotta pay my electric bill, I’ve gotta pay the rent.”’

It is a heartbreaking reality, but for Americans and Chinese alike, there is an urgent need for importing medically necessary generic medicines from India or Canada, or any other countries that offer such drugs at a more affordable price. This is not a matter of convenience or cost: in many cases, it’s a matter of life or death.

The Box Office Success of Dying to Survive Brings Attention to The Drug Price Dilemma

With smashing success in the box office, Dying to Survive also became a matter of international debate and discussion in China and around the world.

A 2013 film was similar in scope and subject matter. American movie Dallas Buyers Club was based on a true story about a man, played by Matthew McConaughey, who sold unregulated AIDS drugs to fellow HIV sufferers. The subject matter of these two movies helped to generate conversation around the topic, as they were both based on real life stories of real life people.

Why do these life saving drugs cost so much? What’s at the heart of the drug price dilemma? The answer is complicated, but it lies with the inner workings of big pharmaceutical companies and, yes, the life saving necessity of these drugs. In demand drugs that people are willing to shell out large amounts of money for in order to save their life are something that can make the pharmaceutical company a whole lot of money. In addition, pharmaceutical companies want to make as much money as possible before the patent expires on their creation. By gouging the price way up, knowing that people will find a way to afford what they need, these companies rake back huge sums of money into their own pockets.

For example, Celgene raised the price of blockbuster cancer drug Revlimid by 5%, to $695.48 ($940.29) per capsule. In fact, in the first 10 days of July alone, at least 10 other drugmakers and biotechnology companies raised prices on at least 20 brand-name medicines. The increases, for medications for cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and liver disease, were generally each less than 10%, but the price of one little-prescribed sleep aid was raised by more than 700%. Since November 2016, the price of aforementioned Revlimid has raised by over 25% on four separate occasions. However, another recent news item regarding raising drug prices involves President Trump publicly criticizing Pfizer for raising the list prices on more than 40 of its prescription drugs.

President Trump tweeted, “Pfizer & others should be ashamed that they have raised drug prices for no reason. They are merely taking advantage of the poor & others unable to defend themselves, while at the same time giving bargain basement prices to other countries in Europe & elsewhere. We will respond!” The next day, “Pfizer announced it had agreed to ‘postpone’ the drug price increases, following what the company described as an ‘extensive talk’ between the company’s CEO Ian Read and Mr. Trump.”

Trump tweet about raised drug prices

President Trump has promised that his administration will continue to work toward substantially cutting the prices on prescription drugs. In addition, according to Forbes, the FDA "is forming a working group to look at policy options for allowing drug importation in certain circumstances, according to a statement. For example, if there are 'sudden, significant price increases that close off channels of availability,' such as when a company increases the price of an old generic drug—and there’s only one version on the market."

Tweet about Trump has promised

When it comes to health care problems like this and social impact, the question arises:

Is importing life-saving drugs to patients who need them a crime? Perhaps in the eyes of the law, but for many, the noble action outweighs the risk of committing a crime.

The drug price dilemma is one that many patients have to face when they are saddled with a serious illness. Having to pay thousands of dollars per month on treatments for cancer and other life-threatening diseases can bankrupt a family and leave their life in shambles, with bills to pay for the rest of their life. When a more affordable “knockoff” version is available, despite being illegal to import from another country in some cases, it’s no wonder that people simply do what they need to do to get the help and cure they need.

Alternative Options for Generic Cancer Drugs: Source Affordable Prescription Medications from a Canadian Pharmacy

Patients who require cancer drugs like Gleevec often choose to do drug price comparisons of their own. Gleevec is used to treat several kinds of solid tumors or blood cancers, such as cancer of white blood cells, cancer of tissues beneath the skin, and cancer of the stomach and bowel. Typically, the pill is used in situations where the tumor cannot be removed via surgery.

The cost in China (by Novartis; not covered by national health insurance) is $32 a day (about RMB 200 or $3,500 a month). However, switching to generic medicines from India lowers the price to $480 a month (about RMB 3,000). With healthcare, it can cover 70% to 80% of the costs in some areas. Still, the high prices can be too much for suffering patients who desperately need the medications in order to keep on living. In the US, too, the retail price is $32 for a single pill. However, on Canadian Pharmacy World, the price is just $23.

Thus, what solutions can Americans turn to when they need to secure cancer drugs of their own at a price they can afford? Consider shopping at Canadian Pharmacy World, where our prices are much lower than other retail options.

We offer generic imatinib from Canada at $13.83 per pill and generic imatinib from India at $1.99 per pill. The pills available are by Natco Pharma (also known as Veenat, the version used in the movie) or by Cipla (also known as Imatib). We also sell Pfizer’s top products, including Viagra, Lipitor, Ibrance, Xeljanz, and more.

Photo Credit: by CANPharmaWorld
Photo Credit: by CANPharmaWorld

Supporting organizations like The Campaign for Personal Prescription Importation (CPPI) is also a good move. CPPI is an American nonprofit patient advocacy organization that fights for access to safe, affordable prescription medications from Canada for personal use. Lastly, we would like to share that CanadaDrugs.com is closing and we welcome former customers in a friendly and positive way.


Skye Sherman is a professional writer who has been published in numerous local and international outlets. She has also worked for a wellness company and is very familiar with the healthcare industry. She holds a degree from a Florida university.


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While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.