Pillhead

the personal views of a doctor in industry

The crass is always greener on our side – Big Pharma does ASCO

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Reporting from ASCO, an article in Forbes asks the question, “Are Cancer Drugs Worth The Money?

 

Probably not, is probably the correct answer. How do we get away with charging so much for drugs that add so little in terms of extra days of life? I suspect that apart from the usual economics of it, there are two additional factors:

 

  1. Once people are given the death sentence of a terminal cancer diagnosis, they become desperate and irrational and therefore demand becomes price inelastic

  2. Cancer tends to hit in middle age and later, a time when people generally have some money put aside

 

Perhaps the pricing of cancer drugs is partly driven by the existence of a market segment of rich, desperate and irrational people.

 

What put a bee in my bonnet this ASCO? The Forbes article did, in particular two quotes in it:

 

The authors note that one trend that may further inflate the cost of cancer therapy is containment rather than cure. The big news is around the possible long term use of therapy to subdue cancer cells, the downside being that if you stop treatment the cancer comes back. William Burns, head of Roche’s pharmaceuticals division happily notes, “we have learned that it is a drug to start with and stay with”. And that phrase rolls off the tongue a little too easily for my taste.

 

But Burns is trumped by OSI Chief Executive Colin Goddard who, speaking about another drug trial that has not shown improvement in survival, noted: “We estimate we have the potential for at least $500 million in new [U.S.] business from this study”.

 

Don’t get me wrong: there is a place and a need for marketing people to do their thing, and for finance guys to do theirs. But ASCO is a medical meeting. If you do not want to look greedy then keep the commercial talk for afterwards.

 

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Written by Pillhead

June 1, 2009 at 3:36 pm

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