The high cost of pharmaceuticals in America seems to crop up on the mainstream media’s radar screen on occasion, however, recent data shows that the problem with Big Pharma goes far beyond pricing.
A recent article by Liz Szabo on the Kaiser Health News website gives us an interesting perspective on the cancer drug business. According to Ms. Szabo, demands for earlier access to potentially life-saving oncology drugs has led to a flood of FDA-approved pharmaceuticals hitting the marketplace; that said, many of these new drugs are extremely expensive and offer patients marginal benefits. In fact, the 72 new cancer therapies that were approved by the FDA offered patients a life extensions averaging only 2.1 months. As well, two-thirds of the cancer drugs approved in the last two years have no evidence showing that they extend life at all.
A recent study by Tracy Rupp and Diana Zuckerman found that for 18 of the 36 drugs that were approved between 2008 and 2012, post-marketing studies showed that there was no “overall survival benefit”. Here is a table showing the drugs in the study, ranked by whether they improved the patient’s quality of life, the type of cancer treated by the drug and the drug’s annual cost:
While we are on the subject of the cost of these effective and not-so-effective cancer drugs, let’s look at what has happened to the monthly and median price of cancer drugs between 1965 and 2016:
Here is a complete listing of the drugs, the monthly cost at the time of approval and the monthly cost in 2014 dollars:
When you compile the information in this posting, you find that patients suffering from cancer are paying far more for drugs that, in at least some cases, provide marginal benefits when it comes to extending life. The data also shows that the cost associated with these drugs can be considered nothing more than immoral, particularly when they are designed for use in cases where patients’ lives are already threatened and they are at their most vulnerable, facing their own mortality.
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