Saturday, September 21, 2013

Unsustainable Cost of Cancer Drugs

This year, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved several cancer treatment drugs such as Afatinib, Denosumab, Trametinib, Dabrafenib and Lenalidomide capsules among many others. This may be a breakthrough development in the field of medicine, considering the fact that more and more drugs each day are being developed in order to treat cancer. 

Unfortunately, all things come with a price. And when it comes to Cancer drugs, nothing comes cheap.

Why Cancer Drugs are so expensive

The high cost of cancer drugs is among the major issues in the healthcare industry. However, there are several factors related to the development of a single drug which makes it expensive. 

  • The cost developing the drug itself, from preclinical research to generation of data and testing, is very high.
  • Since most cancers are incurable, each patient is treated with an approved agent either sequentially or in combination, thereby creating a virtual monopoly.
  • Because of the development of new drugs, the ‘older’ drugs are viewed as a substandard treatment.
  • The very nature of cancer makes patients and physicians more willing to pay the price of treatment.
  • There is an incentive or reimbursement when chemotherapy and more expensive drugs are resorted to even if there are cheaper alternatives available.
  • Certain agencies are prevented from taking economic and cost-effective considerations when approving new cancer drugs. 

Cancer medication and expenses

Cancer drugs can hurt a lot of people’s pockets. A treatment for Kidney cancer called Afinitor cost $3,995.00 – and that’s just one drug! According to a paper signed by 120 leukemia experts from all over the world, there has been a dramatic increase in the price of cancer medications. In Sweden alone, drug therapy is supplied to patients at no cost resulting to 80% survival rate in 10 years. This is opposed to the United States or any other countries where patients will shoulder the expenses. 

Because of the costs involved, around 10% of the patients fail to take their prescribed drugs simply because they cannot afford it. As a result, their chances of survival are greatly reduced.

What can we do about it?

There are many ways that can help alleviate this situation. It is important to maintain a balance between autonomy on physicians prescribing a treatment and costs incurred by the society. This can be done by improving national guidelines that allows both patients and physicians to choose the most cost-effective methods available to them. By providing transparency on the cost-effective options available, people can make better treatment decisions.

Also, price regulation is necessary. In terms of funding the development of a new drug, a lot of money is also spent on marketing the product. Why should the public shoulder these costs when it won’t benefit them at all?

Another solution would be the creation of nonprofit generic companies. As long as companies for profit exist, expect cancer drugs to be at a higher cost. By having philanthropic foundations fund the manufacture and distribution of life-saving drugs, expenses for medications will be greatly reduced. At the end of the day, harmonizing health care affordability and profits will provide greater benefits in the long run.

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to see more price transparency in general in the US healthcare system.

    If healthcare providers were forced to charge the same fee to all patients receiving the same treatment, as opposed to a different price for each health insurance provider, that would level the playing field. Force them to give you an estimate of costs before you receive any treatment, and that would promote price transparency allowing patients to make rational choices about service providers.

    This would increase competition, and drive prices to a more natural level, for all healthcare services.


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