Lesley Stahl discovers the shock and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis can be followed by a second jolt: the astronomical price of cancer drugs
- And as anyone who’s been through it knows, the shock and anxiety of the diagnosis is followed by a second jolt: the high price of cancer drugs.
- They are so astronomical that a growing number of patients can’t afford …..
Dr. Leonard Saltz: We’re in a situation where a cancer diagnosis is one of the leading causes of personal bankruptcy… We’re starting to see the term “financial toxicity” being used in the literature. Individual patients are going into bankruptcy trying to deal with these prices.
“I do worry that people’s fear and anxiety’s are being taken advantage of.”
Lesley Stahl: The general price for a new drug is what?
Dr. Leonard Saltz: They’re priced at well over $100,000 a year … And if you figure one drug costs $120,000 and the next drug’s not going to cost less, you’re at a quarter-million dollars in drug costs just to get started.
Dr. Saltz’s battle against the cost of cancer drugs started in 2012 when the FDA approved Zaltrap for treating advanced colon cancer. Saltz compared the clinical trial results of Zaltrap to those of another drug already on the market, Avastin. He says both target the same patient population, work essentially in the same way. And, when given as part of chemotherapy, deliver the identical result: extending median survival by 1.4 months, or 42 days.
Dr. Leonard Saltz: They looked to be about the same. To me, it looked like a Coke and Pepsi sort of thing.
Then Saltz, as head of the hospital’s pharmacy committee, discovered how much it would cost: roughly $11,000 per month, more than twice that of Avastin.
Another reason drug prices are so expensive is that according to an independent study, the single biggest source of income for private practice oncologists is the commission they make from cancer drugs. They’re the ones who buy them wholesale from the pharmaceutical companies, and sell them retail to their patients.
Dr. Hagop Kantarjian: High cancer drug prices are harming patients because either you come up with the money, or you die.
“They are making prices unreasonable, unsustainable and, in my opinion, immoral.”
When we asked Novartis why they tripled the price of Gleevec, they told us,… When setting the prices of our medicines we consider … the benefits they bring to patients … The price of existing treatments and the investments needed to continue to innovate…”
The challenge, Dr. Saltz at Sloan Kettering says, is knowing where to draw the line between how long a drug extends life and how much it costs.
Lesley Stahl: Where is that line?
Dr. Leonard Saltz: I don’t know where that line is, but we as a society have been unwilling to discuss this topic and, as a result, the only people that are setting the line are the people that are selling the drugs.