An unusually bold stand by doctors at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York has forced a big drug company to reduce the cost of an overpriced drug for treating colorectal cancer that was no better than a cheaper competitor and did almost nothing to extend a patient’s life. It is a heartening sign that alert and aggressive physicians can potentially play a major role in helping to reduce the escalating costs of health care for treatments of marginal value.
The drug is Zaltrap, which was developed by Sanofi, a large French pharmaceutical company, and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, a small biotechnology company in Tarrytown, N.Y. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in August as a second-line treatment for colorectal cancer after initial courses of treatment have stopped working. It is used for treating colorectal cancer that has spread from the colon to other parts of the body and is administered intravenously.
Zaltrap was initially priced at about $11,000 a month, more than double the price of a competing drug, Avastin, made by Genentech, which is itself considered too expensive by many doctors for the minimal medical benefit it delivers. When added to standard cancer treatments, both drugs improve the median survival time of patients by a minuscule 1.4 months.
The doctors at Sloan-Kettering balked at the high price of Zaltrap and decided not to approve the drug for use in the hospital.