November 2015 Edition Vol.10, Issue 11

Oncologists Become More Vocal About Rising Costs

Oncologists Become More Vocal About Rising Costs

By Kathy Boltz, PhD


Is drug pricing of new innovative cancer drugs based on what the market can bear? Do drug manufacturers continue to challenge the market with high prices? How are patients going to pay for them? These are some of the questions that were explored in a commentary of over 100 oncologists in a recent issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, at the 2015 ASCO Plenary Session, and in a critical analysis published in Blood.

In the August 2015 issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, over 110 oncologists cited that drug companies keep challenging the market with even higher prices. They wrote, “This raises the question of whether current pricing of cancer drugs is based on reasonable expectation of return on investment or whether it is based on what prices the market can bear.”1 The oncologists described the effects of the high prices of cancer drugs as a “structural disincentive for compliance”, and with some of the most effective and transformative drugs in the history of cancer treatment, suggested that “simple and measured incremental actions can improve the situation and allow market forces to work better.”

Potential Actions to Take to Address Rising Costs

The commentary by the group of oncologists suggested the following actions to address high cancer prices1:

  • Creating a post-FDA drug-approval review mechanism to propose a fair price for new treatments, based on value
  • Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices
  • Allowing the benefits of new treatments to be investigated by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute that was created by the Affordable Care Act
  • Allowing the import of cancer drugs across borders for personal use
  • Passing legislation to prevent pay-for-delay of generic drugs
  • Reforming the patent system to prevent patent “evergreening”
  • Encouraging organizations that represent cancer specialists and patients to consider the overall value of drugs and treatments when treatment guidelines are formulated

The oncologists also urged a cancer patient-based grassroots movement advocating against the high prices of cancer drugs, and they suggested that this movement take a page from the history of AIDS advocacy strategies.

However, a PhRMA blog by Robert Zirkelbach, Senior Vice President of Communications at PhRMA, responded to the commentary by stating that cancer medicines represent only one-fifth of total spending on cancer treatment and 1% of healthcare spending overall.2 He raised concern that the approaches advocated by the oncologists would “send a chilling signal to the marketplace that risk-taking will no longer be rewarded, stopping innovation in its tracks.”

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