No doubt about that, and there is also no lack of effort trying to cast blame on who bears responsibility for those costs. There is even a recent article in the British Medical Journal that analyzes the size of the vials those drugs come in and suggests for some companies at least that may be a strategy to increase costs even further. What most experts can agree on is that this is a complicated problem for which there are no easy solutions.
I recently wrote a short commentary on the issue which appeared in Healio’s “HemOnc Today.” Although not exhaustive in terms of analyzing the issue, it does point out that we need to find a balance that continues to provide the incentive to innovate and bring new treatments to the care of cancer patients, while maintaining some degree of restraint given the reality that these costs simply cannot continue to increase without limit.
There is little question that these treatments have the potential for changing the outlook for some cancers. For example, we are seeing genuine improvement in survival—both in length of time and quality of life–for patients with advanced melanoma where until several years ago we had very little to offer. And immunotherapies offer hope for patients with a number of other cancers, including lung cancer and head and neck cancer.
However, if we don’t address the costs in a meaningful way we may find ourselves limiting the opportunities to continue the research and translation to clinical practice that will inevitably lead to the advances in cancer treatment that we all agree is vital to improving the outlook for cancer survivors worldwide.
Many can benefit from these new medicines. But rational thought must prevail if we are to provide continued development of promising new therapies, while preserving the access so vital to help those whose lives literally depend on these breakthrough treatments for a devastating disease.