Oncologists criticize cancer-drug prices

Doctors criticize high cancer-drug prices. Hundreds of oncologists from top cancer hospitals around America have issued a harsh criticism over expensive cancer-drug prices and called for new laws to control them. Prescription drug prices rose more than 12% last year in America, the biggest annual increase in a decade, according to the nation’s largest pharmacologist manager.

“It’s time for patients and their physicians to call for change,” said Mayo Clinic hematologist Dr. Ayalew Tefferi.

Tefferi said an insured cancer patient who needs a drug that costs $120,000 a year would pay as much as $30,000 in out-of-pocket costs, which is more than half of the average U.S. household income of $52,000.

The increase in cancer drug prices in the last 15 years has many contributing factors and is harming our patients and our health care system. It represents to many cancer experts a crossing of a moral line between reasonable profits and profiteering, in a situation involving a human catastrophe: patients who have developed cancer, and who may die because they cannot afford the treatment. With typical out-of-pocket expenses of 20% to 30%, the financial burden of cancer treatment would be $20,000 to 30,000 a year, nearly half of the average annual household income in the United States. Many patients (estimated 10% to 20%) may decide not to take the treatment or may compromise significantly on the treatment plan.

The cost of cancer drug Zykadia, Novartis a pill for a sub-type of lung cancer caused by a defect in the Alk gene, approved by the FDA in April of this year is expensive. The company charges $13,200 per month for it. Its competitor is the older drug Xalkori, Pfizer PFE -0.74%’s pill that has the same mechanism of action and targets the same type of lung cancer. Approved in 2011, it costs $11,500 per month. In other words, Zykadia costs almost $2000 more per month.

The industry says that clinical research costs a lot of money because the FDA requires large human studies. True. Novartis had to run a trial of 163 patients to convince the FDA about Zykadia. But Pfizer had to run two studies with 255 patients in total. More studies with more patients means Pfizer spent more than Novartis on clinical research. The pricing of the two drugs suggests the opposite.

The questions that needs to be asked: are profits more important than people?