ASCO Meeting: Cancer Drugs Unsustainable Pricing, Getting Worse!

Only on rare occasions does the yearly meeting of oncologists (ASCO) confront the reality of spiraling drug costs for cancer.  After all, the meeting is largely sponsored by drug companies and most of the research oncologists are in the pay of the drug companies (literally and figuratively).  But this year Leonard Saltz raised the issue, as he has done in the past, a more or less lone voice in the wilderness.

Dr. Saltz’s remarks focused mainly on an experimental melanoma treatment made by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. , but he also criticized pricing more widely. He cited statistics showing that the median monthly price for new cancer drugs in the U.S. had more than doubled in inflation-adjusted dollars from $4,716 in the period from 2000 through 2004 to roughly $9,900 from 2010 through 2014. Dr. Saltz cited studies showing that the price increases haven’t corresponded to increases in the drugs’ effectiveness.

And talking about a new regimen for malignant melanoma:

Dr. Saltz said the combination regimen’s benefit was “truly, truly remarkable for a disease that five years ago we thought was virtually untreatable.” But he said that combining the drugs would cost around $295,000 a patient over nearly one year, which he called unsustainable. If all U.S. patients with metastatic cancer took drugs priced at $295,000 a year, it would cost $174 billion to treat them all for just one year, Dr. Saltz said.

Medicynical Note:  The irony of drug development is that the most effective regimens require the least testing on patients because they work.  It’s the regimens with results that are marginal and maybe not even real that require large randomized studies to prove even a paltry few weeks delay in progression so as to get FDA approval. 

Whatever the cost of development, drug companies price drugs based at least in part on the seriousness of the illness treated.  The more desperate the situation, the higher the price.  A little like “your money or your life.”

Our congress doesn’t allow the FDA to evaluate cost effectiveness of regimens and doesn’t allow Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies.  After all, the unstated goal of our non-system of health is NOT affordable care for all citizens but rather protection of the profits of patent holders and maintaining the cash flow of some of the most profitable corporations in the country. 

You think that’s why our health care is the most expensive by far in the world but only has average results? 

Psst, in case you are worried about American Exceptionalism, we also lead the world in bankruptcy from health care costs, we’re number 1

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