New cancer drugs are technically impressive. But must they cost so much?
CANCER is not one disease. It is many. Yet oncologists have long used the same blunt weapons to fight different types of cancer: cut the tumour out, zap it with radiation or blast it with chemotherapy that kills good cells as well as bad ones.
These new drugs sell well. Last year Gleevec grossed $4.3 billion. Roche’s Herceptin (the HER2 drug) and Avastin did even better: $6 billion and $7.4 billion respectively.
The snag, from society’s point of view, is that all these drugs are horribly expensive.
Not all these new drugs work. In December the FDA said that Avastin’s side effects outweighed its meagre impact on breast cancer. (Genentech will argue otherwise in a hearing in June.) More generally, some people reckon that new cancer drugs offer small benefits at an exorbitant price. Provenge costs $93,000 for a course of treatment and extends life by an average of four months. Yervoy costs $120,000 for three-and-a-half months. Some patients live much longer, which fuels demand for the drugs. But others spend a lot and get little. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, calls the new treatments “the next frontier”, but adds: “We are not buying a lot of life prolongation with these drugs.”
Read more: http://www.economist.com/node/18743951