Prices of Cancer Medications Draw Concern
The prices of new cancer medications -- "up to $10,000 a month for a single drug -- are causing alarm among patients and insurance companies," USA Today reports.
According to a June report released by pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts, the cost of cancer medications increased by almost 16% in 2005, compared with a 3% increase for other treatments. A 30-day prescription for cancer medications on average cost about $1,600 in 2005, the report found.
The report excluded cancer medications administered in physician offices -- such as Avastin, a treatment manufactured by Genentech that costs about $50,000 annually.
Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, said, "It's really exploiting the desperation of people with a life-threatening illness."
However, Walter Moore, vice president of government affairs for Genentech, said that the high prices of new cancer medications help cover the cost of research and development. "One can't be in business without returning a profit. To get the returns to be able to spend the money to do the things we want to do, we have to price the way we price," he said (Szabo, USA Today, 7/11).
In related news, USA Today on Tuesday examined how "[s]ome doctors are questioning whether targeted therapies -- designed to turn cancer into a chronic disease by silencing growth signals inside malignant cells -- are worth the expense to individuals and taxpayers."
According to Leonard Saltz, a researcher at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, most new cancer medications can increase survival times by only a few weeks or months. In addition, although physicians had expected that new cancer medications would replace chemotherapy, many of the treatments are effective only when combined with chemotherapy, he said.
The combination of new cancer medications with chemotherapy increases costs and side effects experienced by cancer patients, USA Today reports.
Jerome Kassirer, former editor of NEJM, said, "Families could end up spending their fortunes for what turns out to be a minor benefit."
David Johnson, former president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, added that some cancer patients decide not to seek treatment with new medications because of the high cost (Szabo, USA Today, 7/11).