NY Magazine takes on the cost of cancer drugs; you will find this hard to believe.


NY Magazine takes on the cost of cancer drugs; you will find this hard to believe.

The cost of healthcare services is ridiculous in the USA which is something most of us are accustomed to. The cost of staying alive temporarily if you have terminal cancer is extraordinary according to a new NY Times article. You have to read this article to believe it. Even doctors at the famed Sloan Kettering hospital system are balking at these prices which are for drugs proven to give you a few more months at best. Apparently, the FDA approves drugs based on their safety, but does not include any consideration as to whether it is even practical or sensible to offer someone a drug, which the system will pay for, which only offers no cure, but at a high cost offers someone an additional month or two of additional suffering until they succumb anyway.

The worst part of this is that Medicare, as is written in the law is required to cover drugs like these, even though they are non curative so we, the taxpayer are on the hook if someone becomes convinced that using drugs like these, with their prices upward of $75k or more a month is something they feel compelled to do. While I have no idea what the profit margin is for a drug like this, it is likely that since this is a boutique product, the markup is likely huge as they try to profit from a small portion of the population for something that is really unhelpful, and by its definition is medically unnecessary. There are regimens in place that are more humane since they help with the suffering, rather than extend it.

Read the article here

The Cost of Living

New drugs could extend cancer patients’ lives—by days. At a cost of thousands and thousands of dollars. Prompting some doctors to refuse to use them.

By Stephen S. Hall

On August 3, 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new cancer drug called Zaltrap as a safe and effective treatment for patients with advanced colon cancer. The approval was based on a large-scale clinical trial that showed that Zaltrap, given in combination with three previously approved drugs to patients who had failed initial therapy, extended median overall survival by 42 days.

No one knew the price of Zaltrap at that point, but Leonard Saltz, who heads the gastrointestinal oncology group at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, had a sense of what was coming. Zaltrap’s effectiveness, in his opinion, was almost identical to that of Avastin, an FDA-approved cancer drug that had also been targeted at that same patient population. Several weeks earlier, Saltz had traveled to Chicago to inflict a little premonitory sticker shock on his medical colleagues. He reviewed the recent clinical results of both Zaltrap and Avastin when used as a “second line” treatment, after initial treatment had failed. As Saltz reminded the other oncologists, Avastin was modestly effective as a second-line treatment—it extended median overall survival by 42 days, the same as Zaltrap—but it cost about $5,000 a month and, like Zaltrap, would have to be taken for many months to achieve that modest clinical benefit. The overall cost was so high that Saltz devoted the end of his talk to a back-of-the-envelope calculation, delivered via PowerPoint, that recast the question in terms of health-care costs: If you extended the 42 days survival to a year, “what is the cost of Avastin for one year of human life saved?”

The answer was astounding, even to doctors who have grown inured to the zero-gravity economics of cancer pharmaceuticals. As Saltz worked his way through slide 73 of 78, he arrived at the bottom line: $303,000.

“Now, that’s essentially the cost of the bare-bones drug,” Saltz later explained to me in his office at Sloan-Kettering. “It’s parts, not labor. No money for doctors; no money for nurses; no money for pharmacists; no money for real estate, heat, and lights; no money for the needles, the IV tubing, the IV fluids, the anti-nausea medicines, the other chemotherapies that are given, because Avastin doesn’t do anything by itself. It has to be given with other drugs … I want to emphasize it’s not that we can have a year of life saved for $303,000. That’s probably less than half of what the actual cost would be when you factor in everything.” Zaltrap, he figured, was probably going to be in the same range.

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