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In the past few years, there have been a lot of advances in cancer. Every year, the FDA approves more and more new drugs. This helps my patients live not only longer, but also better.
These advances are due to many reasons, and one of the important reasons is research by drug companies.
The research is costly, and when drug companies research multiple drugs, only a few drugs turn out to be good enough to be approved by the FDA. The figure often cited by drug manufacturers is about $1.3 billion, which is based on analysis by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development.
Is this always true? I do not agree with that.
Imatinib was a wonder drug approved by the FDA in 2001. At that time, it revolutionized the way we treat CML or Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. Its cost in 2001 was around $25,000 to $30,000 a year. This included cost for drug development, research and so on. Now in 2013, the same drug costs $92,000.
The price is now three to four times the original price. How can you explain that?
According to Dr. Hagop Kantarjian, the cost of a typical cancer drug has doubled during the past decade, from around $5,000 per month to more than $10,000 in 2010. He is a professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston — the largest cancer center in the world.
In 2012, 12 new cancer drugs were approved by the FDA in the U.S., and that is great, but 11 out of 12 drugs were priced at more than $100,000 a year. This has significantly increased the cost of cancer care in the country.
As far as I know, the drug company can price the new drug at whatever cost it decides. There is no regulation that can force the drug company to price it at a certain level based on research or development cost of the drug.
Also, all IV drugs that are approved by the FDA have to be covered by Medicare and most of the insurance companies, and so the drug company has to be paid for that. So, free market economy does not play an important role in this.
Many drugs cost much less in Canada than in the U.S. — this is particularly true for the drugs that are not generic. As far as I know, Obamacare does not address this issue in any meaningful way.
“ASCO’s viewpoint is that all parties — medical societies, government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, patient groups and health care policymakers — need to make a serious commitment to address this problem together,” said Clifford Hudis, M.D., president of ASCO, or American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Dr. Sunil Gandhi is a hematologist and oncologist. He is the volunteer medical adviser of the Citrus Unit of American Cancer Society. Write to 521 N. Lecanto Highway, Lecanto, FL 34461, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 352-746-0707.