The pharmaceutical industry has finally gone too far. Drug companies have bitten the hands that feed them.
Oncologists are furious about the unconscionable costs of cancer drugs. In the Mayo Clinic Proceedings (online, July 23, 2015), 118 leading cancer doctors express outrage that cancer drug prices have become unaffordable. They point out that “the average price of new cancer drugs increased 5- to 10-fold over 15 years, to more than $100,000 per year in 2012.”
On the Front Lines of Cancer Treatment
These oncologists are the ones who write prescriptions for increasingly unaffordable medicines. Drug companies rely on these physicians to fill their coffers with billions of dollars and keep the bottom line looking good for investors. But by jacking up prices into the stratosphere these manufacturers have pushed the medical community over the edge.
Oncologists recognize that patients might have to choose between potentially life-saving therapies and the basic needs of their families for food, housing, transportation and education. These cancer specialists are frustrated that “Because of costs, about 10% to 20% of patients with cancer do not take the prescribed treatment or compromise it.”
What’s more, there is no relief in sight. Each new cancer drug seems to be priced higher than the last one. It is not unusual for a year of treatment with an innovative medication to cost more than a luxury car.
Examples of Cancer Drug Prices
Keytruda (pembrolizumab), for example, was approved last year to treat recurrent melanoma, a deadly skin cancer. The estimated cost of treatment: $150,000 a year. That’s also the price tag on Revlimid (lenalidomide), a drug used to treat the blood cancer multiple myeloma. A drug for treating lung cancer, Zykadia (ceritinib), costs even more, at around $13,200 per month.
Who can afford these prices? Even insurance companies cannot keep on paying such bills and stay in business. Many are passing more of the costs along to their customers.
The government is feeling the pinch as well. Medicare and Medicaid will see their costs skyrocket over the next decade if prices continue to escalate. We all pay for Medicare and Medicaid, so this directly affects you and everyone you know.
When pharmaceutical companies are questioned about exorbitant cancer drug prices, they defend them by pointing to investor expectations. In recent years, many of their best-selling products have lost patent protection and become available as generics. There have been few breakthroughs in other areas of medicine, so increasingly drug companies have turned to cancer medications to boost their bottom lines.
The Protest Begins
The oncologists writing in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings are calling for action. They urge their colleagues, patients and the public to sign an online petition at Change.org (here is the link for “Protest High Cancer Drug Prices”). The more signatures this petition gathers, the more leverage patient advocates will have in trying to rein in the out-of-control pharmaceutical industry.
Cancer Drug Prices Are Lower in Canada
The doctors point out that prices in Canada are roughly half those in the U.S. and are asking the government to permit patients to import their own cancer drugs. The oncologists are also encouraging legislation that would permit Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
Perhaps you think this doesn’t affect you because you don’t have cancer. If you worry about Alzheimer’s disease or any other devastating condition you need to pay attention. The prices of prescription drugs for cancer could be an indication of where prices for other medicines are headed.
If there were a truly helpful drug to treat dementia, we anticipate the pharmaceutical industry would charge over $100,000 per patient per year. With over 5 million people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease that would create an annual bill of $500,000,000,000. Sustainable? We don’t think so.
It is time to protest high cancer drug prices. Here is the link to add your name.
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