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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 20566

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Exorbitant Prices for Leukemia Drugs
The New York Times 2013 May 1

Full text:

Last year we were heartened when doctors at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York refused to use an outrageously overpriced drug for treating advanced colorectal cancer because it was no better than a cheaper (but still costly) alternative. Neither did much to extend a patient’s life. Now the revolt against unjustifiably high cancer drug prices has been joined by more than 100 leukemia experts from more than 15 countries.

In a commentary published online by Blood, the journal of the American Society of Hematology, the experts questioned the morality 0f charging “astronomical” prices that may deprive some needy patients of access to drugs and could undermine the financial sustainability of the American health care system.

Of the 12 drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration for various cancer conditions last year, the experts said, 11 were priced above $100,000 a year. They suggested that charging high prices for drugs that are needed to save lives or improve health is a form of profiteering like jacking up the price of necessities after a natural disaster.

The experts focused primarily on the cancer they know best, chronic myeloid leukemia, and the drugs used to treat it, whose costs, they said, can rise to $138,000 a year. By all accounts, these drugs, known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors, have been a rousing success in turning a death sentence into a chronic disease whose victims often live close to normal life spans. That does not mean the high prices are justifiable; the companies could settle for lower-but-still-substantial profits. An even stronger case can be made that extremely high prices of other cancer drugs providing minuscule benefits should be lowered.

The cancer experts plan to organize meetings with drug companies, patient groups, insurers and others to discuss why cancer drug prices are so high and what might be done to lower them. Let us hope their effort proves as effective as the Sloan-Kettering revolt, which forced the drugmaker to effectively cut its prices in half.


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Far too large a section of the treatment of disease is to-day controlled by the big manufacturing pharmacists, who have enslaved us in a plausible pseudo-science...
The blind faith which some men have in medicines illustrates too often the greatest of all human capacities - the capacity for self deception...
Some one will say, Is this all your science has to tell us? Is this the outcome of decades of good clinical work, of patient study of the disease, of anxious trial in such good faith of so many drugs? Give us back the childlike trust of the fathers in antimony and in the lancet rather than this cold nihilism. Not at all! Let us accept the truth, however unpleasant it may be, and with the death rate staring us in the face, let us not be deceived with vain fancies...
we need a stern, iconoclastic spirit which leads, not to nihilism, but to an active skepticism - not the passive skepticism, born of despair, but the active skepticism born of a knowledge that recognizes its limitations and knows full well that only in this attitude of mind can true progress be made.
- William Osler 1909