The Cost of Drugs in Cancer Care: A Story of Misalignment, With Necessary (Positive) Changes!

Andre Goy, MD
Published: Wednesday, Aug 19, 2015
Andre Goy, MD, MS

Andre Goy, MD

Editor-in-Chief of Oncology & Biotech News

Chairman and Director Chief of Lymphoma Director, Clinical and Translational Cancer Research

John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center

There is no question that we are currently living through one of the most exciting times in medicine, particularly in oncology, as I have frequently alluded to in this column. The new drugs that have emerged continue to transform the landscape and in some cases, will likely replace standard chemotherapy. The ongoing developments include advances with novel small molecules—such as kinase inhibitors in CML and lung cancer, and BCR targeted therapies in B-cell malignancies—as well as the enormous momentum seen (finally) in immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors, BITE antibodies, and cellular therapies (eg, CAR-T cells), which have shown sustainable activity across multiple tumor types.

These novel treatments are often reported as “breakthrough therapies” based on their impressive activity, even in patients refractory to chemotherapy, as well as their frequently being more tolerable than cytotoxic agents and often being administered conveniently as oral agents. Given these advantages, such novel therapies are, not surprisingly, widely adopted by the entire community. Even though some of these new anticancer agents do not induce complete remission, they provide durable responses, which translate into years of clinical benefit for patients and eventually carry the potential promise of making cancer “a chronic disease.”

Over the past few years, however, given the wellrecognized unsustainable cost of healthcare—particularly in cancer (with a predicted 40% increase in incidence by 2030!)—the cost of these new therapies has come under scrutiny. Though we have become accustomed to novel therapies being more costly for over two decades, their cost has continued to increase at an estimated average of $8,500 a year per patient for the past 15 years. Some extreme recent examples illustrate the current problem, with some breakthrough therapies costing up to $150,000 to $178,000 per patient, with copays that obviously then become prohibitive, leading large groups of oncologists to complain that it has gone too far.

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