With the cost of some lifesaving cancer drugs exceeding $100,000 a year, more than 100 influential cancer specialists from around the world have taken the unusual step of banding together in hopes of persuading some leading pharmaceutical companies to bring prices down.
Prices for cancer drugs have been part of the debate over health care costs for several years — and recently led to a public protest from doctors at a major cancer center in New York. But the decision by so many specialists, from more than 15 countries on five continents, to join the effort is a sign that doctors, who are on the front lines of caring for patients, are now taking a more active role in resisting high prices. In this case, some of the specialists even include researchers with close ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
The doctors and researchers, who specialize in the potentially deadly blood cancer known as chronic myeloid leukemia, contend in a commentary published online by a medical journal Thursday that the prices of drugs used to treat that disease are astronomical, unsustainable and perhaps even immoral.
They suggested that charging high prices for a medicine needed to keep someone alive is profiteering, akin to jacking up the prices of essential goods after a natural disaster.
“Advocating for lower drug prices is a necessity to save the lives of patients” who cannot afford the medicines, they wrote in Blood, the journal of the American Society of Hematology…
Some of the doctors who signed on to the commentary said they were inspired by physicians at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, who last fall refused to use a new colon cancer drug, Zaltrap, because it was twice as expensive as another drug without being better.
After those doctors publicized their objections in an Op-Ed articlein The New York Times, Sanofi, which markets Zaltrap, effectively cut the price in half…
Many of the roughly 120 doctors who were co-authors of the commentary — about 30 of whom are from the United States — work closely with pharmaceutical companies on research and clinical trials. They say they favor a healthy pharmaceutical industry, but think prices are much higher than they need to be to ensure that.
“If you are making $3 billion a year on Gleevec, could you get by with $2 billion?” Dr. Brian Druker, who is now director of the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health and Science University, said in an interview. “When do you cross the line from essential profits to profiteering?”
Living here in the belly of the beast gives us no economic advantage. In truth, with a tame Congress, compliant political flunkies throughout the political infrastructure of the United States, it is Americans who are screwed to the wall with higher prices for necessary medication than in any other nation.