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What 60 Minutes Missed on the Value and Cost of Cancer Medicines

Josephine Martin   |     October 5, 2014   |   SHARE THIS

The biopharmaceutical industry is proud of its track record of developing innovative medicines that have extended and improved the lives of patients suffering from cancer.

New cancer medicines have helped cut the overall cancer death rate in the U.S. by 20 percent since its peak in 1991. Since the 1970s, the 5-year survival rate has increased 21 percent for breast cancer, 50 percent for prostate cancer, 36 percent for colon cancer and 54 percent for lung cancer. And since the mid-1970s, survival rates for childhood cancers are up 58 percent.

Examining the value new cancer medicines provide to patients is an important topic to discuss.

60-minutesThat is why it is disappointing that 60 Minutes chose to present a biased, one-sided, view of the cost of cancer medicines. A more serious discussion of this topic would have included a fair representation of the following:

Developing New Medicines is Costly and Complex: Developing new treatments and cures for cancer is a long, costly and complicated process. It takes on average 10 to15 years and more than $2.6 billion to bring a new drug to patients. And the vast majority of medicines that enter the pipeline never make it to the market. For example, a new report being released this week found that between 1998 and 2014, 96 potential treatments for melanoma didn’t make it through clinical trials; only 7 were eventually approved. Similarly, 167 potential lung cancer medicines failed in clinical testing, while 10 were approved. And 3 potential brain cancer treatments were approved, compared to 75 that failed. These “failures” are essential to the development of new medicines, as it is through failing that medical innovation progresses. Each medicine that is tried and fails teaches biopharmaceutical researchers more about how a disease works, enabling them to develop a more effective treatment the next time, and the next, until a new treatment – and hopefully one day a cure – is available for patients.

Insurers, Not Drug Manufacturers, Determine Patients’ Out-of-Pocket Costs: Ensuring patients with cancer can afford their medicines is a top priority for our industry. Importantly, the amount patients pay out-of-pocket for their medicines is determined by their insurance company, not the drug manufacturer. And insurers are requiring patients with cancer to pay an ever-growing share of their medicine costs, sometimes 30, 40 or even 50 percent. This often creates an insurmountable financial barrier to patients, defeating the whole purpose of having insurance. Moreover, the out-of-pocket costs insurers require cancer patients to pay for their medicines is far larger than what they require those same patients to pay for physician services and hospitalizations, which are often much more expensive. This inequity in insurance coverage makes medicines artificially appear to be more expensive than they really are, fueling current misperceptions about the cost of medicines.

Prescription Medicines are a Small Share of Total Health Care Spending: Despite the rhetoric around drug costs, prescription medicines account for just over 10 percent of health care spending in the U.S. and cancer medicines specifically have consistently been less than 1 percent of total spending. In fact, the federal government recently lowered their projections for future growth of medicine costs and estimate spending on medicines will increase at the same rate as overall health care spending over the next decade. These estimates come at a time when biopharmaceutical companies are developing new, innovative cancer medicines that are increasingly targeted to the unique needs of individual patients.

The Full Value of Cancer Medicines is Typically Not Known Until Years After FDA Approval: The 60 Minutes episode also ignored the fact that the full clinical value of a medicine is often not known until years after it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). During the clinical trial process, medicines are tested on patients with the most advanced form of the disease. However, after a new cancer is approved by the FDA and available on the market, doctors will give it to patients earlier in the progression of the disease, in combination with other therapies, or to patients with other types of cancer. And over time, these medicines often demonstrate far greater benefits to patients than understood at the time of initial approval.

We should be celebrating the tremendous progress that has been made in the fight against cancer. And the good news is that right now patients with cancer can have even more hope for the future. Biopharmaceutical companies currently have 771 medicines and vaccines to treat or prevent cancer in clinical trials or awaiting FDA review. But to ensure this progress can continue, it is vital that we have a balanced, fact-based discussion about the cost of medicines and the value they provide to patients and society – something we did not get from 60 Minutes tonight.

Take a moment to review these additional resources covering cancer, recent developments.

Josephine Martin

Josephine Martin Josie Martin is Executive Vice President of Public Affairs at PhRMA. In a career spanning over 20 years, she worked on the Senate Finance Committee, The American Red Cross and has touched many facets of healthcare communications, from anti-smoking campaigns and getting America fit to cancer awareness.

Topics: cancer, Drug Development, drug cost, health care spending

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