Geraldine Ferraro, famous for being the first woman from a major US political party to run for vice president, died on Saturday at the age of 75 from multiple myeloma. Ferraro was an outspoken advocate of cancer research, says Forbes' Matthew Herper. Ferraro appeared on the Today show in 2001 to talk about her diagnosis and the need for more research and screening for multiple myeloma, and then in 2007 to talk about the drugs that were extending her life. During that second Today show appearance, Ferraro discussed the expense of taking these drugs, one of which cost her $1,000 per injection, Herper says. Ferraro added that she was "bothered" that not every cancer patient could afford to take them.
In her 2001 appearance, Ferraro said, "Thank God for thalidomide," which she was using as part of her treatment. After that, Herper says, "sales took off for myeloma. [Maker] Celgene fought for years to get the drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for cancer. But there was one thing it could do quickly: raise the price." By 2007, a month's worth of thalidomide cost $2,500. Celgene developed Revlimid, an improved version of the generic thalidomide, and sold it for $6,200 a month, and continues to raise the price, he adds. And that's not an unusually high price — in fact, it's right in line with what other companies charge for their cancer drugs. Although these drugs keep cancer patients alive, but capping the cost of new cancer drugs is difficult to do, Herper says. Seattle biotech Dendreon last year priced its prostate cancer treatment Provenge at $93,000 per patient. "Geraldine Ferraro praised the researchers who developed the medicines that extended her life, and at the same time worried about the costs of those drugs," Herper adds. "There aren't clear answers for how to solve that paradox, but just starting to think about it a little more deeply would be a wonderful way to honor a remarkable woman."