Finally, ASCO has a concern about costs? The Need for Comparison Studies

From Forbes:

“But many companies seem to be maximizing cancer profit instead. Big drug companies are making big money off smaller and smaller improvements in cancer care. Newfangled cancer drugs can cost $50,000 a year, and that doesn’t mean they will add a year to the patient’s life–you might spend $50,000 for a year and extend the patient’s life by only weeks.”

Regarding Avastin:

“The hope was that further studies of Avastin in other types of cancer or in earlier stages of the disease would show even greater survival benefits. But they haven’t. In several breast-cancer trials–including a new one being presented at the meeting this weekend–Avastin slowed the progression of disease but did not extend patient survival at all. But doctors still use the drug in treating breast cancer because they figure it helps symptoms, even if patients don’t live longer. Avastin costs up to $55,000 a year.”


“Roche is also combining other expensive drugs with Avastin. One study at the meeting showed that adding Tarceva……. delayed by one month the median time it takes lung tumors to grow. “

Medicynical note: ONE MONTH delay for $50,000. Terrific.

Where is the value? Meanwhile the drumbeat of studies showing very limited improvement but very high costs continues.

Also regarding Avastin:

“Avastin failed to prevent colon cancer from recurring after surgery. In the first year of treatment, more patients who got Avastin remained free of detectable cancer. But after a year, the drug was stopped, and by the end of the study, the apparent initial benefit had faded completely.”

In fact most people who receive drugs after surgery have no risk at all for recurrence. For those with what’s called Duke’s C disease the risk of recurrence is about 35-40%. Treatment with chemotherapy with or without Avasatin decreases the risk of recurrence by 15%. That means 20-25% recur no matter what we do. That also means that around 80% of people receiving these drugs get no benefit at all from chemo (the 60% without risk of recurrence and the 20% who recur no matter what we do).

The costs of these type treatments are astronomical. The drug company’s hopes of having $50,000/year drugs used on all patients are deal busters. I can’t think of a better poster child for comparison studies than those cited above.

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