MONTREAL -- In what’s being hailed by experts as a major victory for ALS patients, a drug shown to slow the loss of physical function in patients is now covered under Quebec’s public health insurance.

Also known as edaravone, Radicava is a treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that uses intravenous infusion and is the first drug to be given Health Canada approval for the neurodegenerative disease in more than two decades.

The Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ) added Radicava to its list of covered drugs on Wednesday. 

“The availability of Radicava for ALS patients in Quebec is the most significant step forward in the treatment of this disease in over 20 years. Along with new treatments that are in clinical trials here right now, we can look to a future where ALS is a treatable disease,” said Dr. Angela Genge, director of the clinical research unit and ALS program at the Montreal Neurological Institute.

There are about 3,000 Canadians currently living with ALS; about 80 per cent will die within two to five years of diagnosis.

Developed over a 13-year period, Radicava was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the US in 2017 and by Health Canada in 2018.

The drug is already used to treat ALS in countries including Japan, the U.S. and South Korea.

Patients and doctors have pushed in recent years for greater access to the treatment in Canada.

“It’s been a long, hard battle,” said Mario Goupil, a patient advocate whose wife Lisette has ALS.

Intended for ALS patients under specific medical conditions, patients should consult their doctor for more information.

Some reported side effects of edaravone include bruising, headache, breathing problems and skin infections.