• Chart: Cost of cancer drugs

    Yesterday I encouraged you to read the NY Magazine piece by Stephen Hall on the cost of cancer drugs. If you haven’t read it yet, you should, and all the way to the end. It’s that good.

    In it, Hall describes a chart that illustrates the rising cost of pharmacological cancer treatment. He should have just posted it. You’ll find it on the Sloan-Kettering website or right here:

    cancer drug cost

    The Sloan-Kettering site has links to related reports and papers, so go check them out. I thank Peter Bach and Geoffrey Schnorr at S-K for helping me find the chart.


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    • How long are people on these drugs? $25K (to pick a point on the graph) might be a reasonable price to pay for curing a fatal cancer. But $25K for ten months is a quarter of a million dollars or more than a year’s income for 95% of Americans and more than the total assets of 71% of Americans.

      Although I think $25K is a reasonable price to be cured of a fatal disease, I think pricing drugs by the value of their benefit to the average person is immoral. It’s basically holding the patient’s life ransom to greed.

      • My sister has lung cancer. Her treatment costs to date are over a million dollars. No cure. Fortunately, she has good insurance.
        Immoral to tie price of care to value of life.
        Our local hospital marks up the cost of cancer drugs by 400%. One of the trustees actually remarked “thank god for cancer” since they make so much money from it.

    • Excellent piece by Stephen. In a similar piece in the Washington Post from February, the starkness of the problem is illustrated perfectly also. http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-02-22/opinions/37240408_1_cancer-drugs-generic-drugs-generic-pharmaceutical-association.

      Of the 12 new cancer drugs approved by FDA in 2012, 11 costed over $100,000 and only three improved survival, though quality of life is this extremely important

    • Cost without analysis of benefit is not only one sided but disingenuous – The question should be – are the costs worth the improvements and compared to what other alternatives (that we can attribute to the costs of the drugs)?

      And when you compute the cost per life year saved, these costs are often comparable (and sometimes much less than the wide scale preventative costs of mitigation of the risk of causing the disease (radon mitigation is a great example – approximately $700,000 per life year saved)).

      See excerpt from Lichtenberg’s Forum for Health Economics & Policy
      Volume 10, Issue 1 2007 Article 1 (FRONTIERS IN HEALTH POLICY RESEARCH) Pharmaceutical Innovation and U.S. Cancer Survival, 1992-2003: Evidence from Linked SEER-MEDSTAT Data, paper below:

      We estimated how much lower the survival rate from all cancer sites
      combined would have been during 1993-2001 in the absence of post-1992 chemotherapy innovation. The estimates indicated that chemotherapy innovation accounted for 74% of the increase in the 1-year observed survival rate for all cancer sites combined during the period 1992-2001. Chemotherapy innovation accounted for smaller fractions of the increases in the 2-year and 3-year observed survival rates for all cancer sites combined during the same period: 51% and 29%, respectively.

    • This also speaks to the need to educate both patients and physicians about palliation, hospice, and end of life. There is data that shows palliative care though not curable will extend survival time at a significantly better Q0L. There is much in this article beyond financial.

      The data and cost issues with the article speaks to advanced colon cancer. I wonder how frequently some of these drugs are used in stage IIb or III? A smart pharma company will want to most a brand down the stage chain to expand the market.