Assessing the Cost of Breast Cancer Drugs

In Breast Cancer, Recent Posts by Barbara Jacoby

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In this modern era, we are seeing more and more drugs being developed to treat breast cancer. Many of these drugs will be used alone or in combination with other drugs in order to treat different types of cancers in patients. But, as more research is being done and more drugs are coming to market, the cost of these treatments is soaring. To most of us, the immediate response is that the drug companies are taking advantage of this illness and are charging enormous amounts of money to line their coffers and take advantage of the insurance companies and wealthy individuals who want/need these treatments. But, is this a fair assessment?

“The problem is that finding the answers to slowing and/or stopping the advancement of so many different kinds of breast cancers is such a monumental mission that all of the money in the world may never be able to accomplish this goal.”Barbara Jacoby

Several years ago, I came across an article that I will never forget. It was posted in “The Manufacturer” and it gave a brief summary of the decision by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) in England wherein the NHS drugs rationing body turned down the inclusion of the drug Kadcyla, marketed by Roche Products Limited because it is too expensive. This drug has been shown to give the HER-2 type of cancer in patients an extra six months of life but at a cost of £90,000 per patient ($139,662.64 in dollars). On the surface, it appears so excessively priced that only those who are extremely wealthy could ever afford it. But, on the other side of this discussion, it has taken 30 years to develop this particular drug. So how do we ever begin to resolve this dilemma?

I truthfully don’t have an answer. I will be the first to say that there is no price that can ever be placed upon a person’s life and perhaps during an extra six months that a person might be given, there is a possibility of another drug coming on board that will extend that person’s life. Or perhaps this drug can be used with another one to produce longer term survival. Or who knows whether a cure might be found during that same six months that could ultimately save that person’s life.

However, on the other side, what is the cost to a company who funds that research for 30 years? If you owned a company that you operated and paid for all of the expenses for 30 years that produced a single product like this one drug, how long would it take to recover your costs for that 30 years plus having a revenue stream to fund new drug research? And what if you spent all of that time and money on a drug that ultimately was determined to have no benefit and the whole project had to be scrapped.

I know that I personally could not afford this drug if I needed it and I don’t know of any source for obtaining that amount of money. I also considered that if my family was willing to borrow the money for this treatment, would I ever allow them to do so and my answer is a resounding “no”. I would never want to saddle anyone with that kind of debt for the possibility of six more months of life, especially since that could never be guaranteed. I think that I would prefer to put the length of my life in the hands of God and deal with what He allowed.

The more I contemplate this matter, the more I am troubled by it. Why would we continue to spend billions of dollars in research if the products that eventually are found to be of benefit, especially for such a short period of time, are not affordable? How do we manage the ethics of determining that help and assistance might be given to one person and not another person dealing with the same cancer? And how do we continue to spend such incredible amounts of money on a drug that is so limited in the type of cancer that it may deter for a period of time?

I can’t begin to answer a single one of these questions but for the very first time, I understand why so much more money is being spent on the prevention and early detection of breast cancer. It is not and never will be because no one cares about those who are dealing with advanced breast cancer. The problem is that finding the answers to slowing and/or stopping the advancement of so many different kinds of breast cancers is such a monumental mission that all of the money in the world may never be able to accomplish this goal.