Ontario is extending its funding of a potentially life-saving drug for cancer patients, just two months after the province’s ombudsman accused the government of verging on cruelty by cutting off funding after 16 treatments.

Ontario will now fund Avastin for up to 24 two-week treatments if medical evidence shows the disease hasn’t progressed, Health Minister Deb Matthews said yesterday in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Further treatments may be funded based on advice from the patient’s doctor or oncologist, she added.

Colorectal cancer patients who have already paid out of their own pocket for the drug, which can cost about $3,000 per treatment, will not be reimbursed, the minister said.

The government was able to extend funding of Avastin because it negotiated a better price with its manufacturer, Roche, after starting talks in May, she said.

The decision was based on “cost and the effectiveness of the drug,” Matthews added.

“The ombudsman certainly brought attention to it, but I have to say, this is an example of the system working,” she said.

Ombudsman Andre Marin said he was “thrilled” that the government changed its mind on a hard cap for Avastin, which his September report criticized as wrong, unreasonable, and “verges on cruelty.”

Several colorectal cancer patients were forced to pay for Avastin out of their own pockets or stop treatment after reaching the government’s arbitrary limit, he said.

His report, A Vast Injustice, seemed to catch the Health Ministry — which was already embroiled in a spending scandal at eHealth Ontario — completely off-guard, Marin said.

“I think that the ministry officials were like deer caught in headlights,” he said in an interview.

“They were under siege. It was chaotic over there. They were dealing with eHealth. And it just never got a fair shake, because how they were treating Avastin was absolutely absurd and indefensible.”