bucket of money, sticker shock, rebates

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.

Share your thoughts below and please vote on this article at the top of the page.

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  1. RBurke
    Portland, OR

    I am a cancer patient. I have Multiple Myeloma. I was told I would live about 44 months without treatment. This was January 2011. Since then I have had 2 series of treatments with Revlimid-both lasted 5 to 6 months, Velcade-5 months-didn’t help and now Kyprolis -I am starting my sixth month and it looks like I have reached a plateau. This last drug is administered in two doses a week for 3 weeks with one week off. The cost of each administration (including lab test and other fees) $5400.00. That is $10,800 a week. Once or twice a month additional tests $500 plus, and office visit $317. Cancer drugs aren’t the only costs in this battle, lots of different tests are required to take the drugs and visits with the oncologist once or twice a month.
    Don’t get me wrong, I would rather live, but cancer drug pricing is just the tip of the iceberg out of the water…

  2. Patrick Neustatter
    Fredericksburg VA

    I am an MD and medical director of the Moss Free Clinic for the medically indigent (poor and uninsured) and see the devastation that overpriced medical care produces.

    Our politicians really need to confront the idea that it’s OK for medical/pharmaceutical providers to screw as much money as they possibly can out of the sick. This is not a “free market” nor like other markets (where you don’t die if you can’t afford the product).

    We need price control by legislation.

  3. Carrol
    Perry Ga

    And to think that people are doing all kinds of fund raising
    for these conditions to be rewarded in this way. I participate
    in no fund raising for those Pigs!

  4. Jay
    Charlotte, NC

    For a very long time we as a nation have avoided the question of ‘Should Markets be Moral?’. From repeated and orchestrated crash of financial markets to 2007-2008 crash of real estate market, it is clear that those who have the upper hand in controlling the markets have all the justifications they need to take advantage of tens of millions who do not. Our Supreme Court has not been helpful either. It is long past due to rethink the value of markets in allocation of goods and services in a broader context. There is no reason that in the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind, tens of millions walk around with anxiety about their future resulting from serious illness in their family.

  5. snh

    Even worse: if there’s no profit, or not enough to recover costs, (as in rare cancers affecting very few), they stop making drugs that might be promising. One such drug is one used for children’s cancer.

    As for Canadian prices being lower, don’t they get these drugs from American companies? They charge what the market will bear, and make their main profit from Americans under our messed up insurance system.
    If we had Canada’s healthcare system, we wouldn’t have the drugs in the first place (because no profit incentive to develop and test them).
    Israel has a healthcare system like Canada’s and fully admits that it wouldn’t work unless America did the innovations.

    Bottom line: it costs alot of money to develop drugs. Just a question of who pays for it.

    • Helen M
      Modesto, CA

      First of all: many drugs are developed in the labs of teaching hospitals, like Stanford, where the money comes from government grants and some public fund raising. The drug companies do not make the entire investment as they would have you believe.
      Second of all: when they sell to other countries, even tho the prices are far less than we pay here, they are still making a profit. In fact, year in and year out we hear about the extraordinary profit the drug companies work.
      Third of all: they have no qualms about making profits off the miseries of others. Many people do without medications because of price, not just cancer patients.
      And fourth: the drugs are not manufactured here; many of them come from India, where labor prices are very low. Additionally, the factories there do not make the investment in good manufacturing procedures, hence we take dirty drugs which may contain no medication at all, less than a therapeutic dose, or, bad also, too much medication!

  6. Lynne

    Yes! This is great! The same is true for MS (Multiple Sclerosis) medicines. $5000 average per month. Same drugs are almost a quarter of the cost in Canada. They are considered ‘rare’ disease drugs. No generics.

    Thank you for the fight!

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