Could you afford over $30,000 a month for a newly approved chemotherapy drug? It’s called “Folatyn” an “improved” form of an old drug, Methotrexate; yet no one yet knows if it will prolong life in certain rare cancers. Then why was it approved without evidence of effectiveness? Genzymes’ Clolar for pediatric leukemia costs $68,000 for a required two weeks treatment. As reported in the New York Times GlaxoSmithKline is charging $98,000 for a six-month treatment course for Arzerra, to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia which strikes 15,000 Americans a year. That adds up to about $1.5 billion a year.
Treating a lung cancer patient with Erbitux, marketed by Eli Lilly and Bristol-Meyers costs $80,000 for an 18 week regimen, and reportedly prolongs survival by only 36 days. In how many patients is that measured, and how are they matched-what are the biases? The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports that the life of each American who dies of cancer could be extended by one year at the cost of about half a trillion dollars. The authors went on to question the cost benefit analysis of other big sellers such as Avasgin, and Nexavar,” both drugs costing more than $34,000 for a single course of treatment citing poor survival data.”
The authors, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Tito Fojo and Christine Grady, both of the NIH National Cancer Institute, called for changes in both the testing and and practice of oncology, noting that more than 90% of chemotherapeutic drugs approved for cancer treatment in the past four years in the U.S. cost more than $20,000 for a 12-week course.
They add, the high cost and relatively low benefit of these drugs points to “one of the thorniest questions facing lawmakers working on the overhaul of the