At Xconomy, Luke Timmerman says it's time to ask questions about whether really expensive cancer drugs are worth the cost. "If a new cancer drug comes out at a price of $100,000 per person, how many patients likely to benefit will actually get it? How many will drain their entire life savings just to make the insurance co-pays?" Timmerman asks. "How many people will go bankrupt to stay alive a few more months? How many people will get overtreated with expensive new meds, when there’s no evidence to support use?"
A group of researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is taking on this issue and forming an institute dedicated to improving cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment. The new institute, called ICOR, will study the cost-effectiveness of expensive drugs, and the studies it produces will be available both in peer-reviewed journals and in a free public resource.
The center's head, health economist Scott Ramsey, says he's found studies that show that even patients who have health insurance suffer severe financial hardship to pay for cancer medications. "Another study found that Genentech's hit antibody drug, bevacizumab (Avastin), had almost a zero percent chance of being cost-effective for lung cancer patients (actually, it was a 0.2 percent probability)," Timmerman says. He adds, "Drug companies can, and should, be able to recoup the investments they make in the form of high drug prices. But if you're going to charge a high price for a drug, I think a company needs to have a much stronger value proposition than 'Hey, we shrank tumors in half for 20 percent of patients. Now hand over your $100,000.'"