NOV 11, 2016 5:21 AM PST

Rethinking the Benefits vs. Cost of Expensive New Cancer Drugs

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Unlike most fields of biology and science that’s suffering from lack of funding, cancer research is a booming business. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, recently announced a $3 billion initiative to cure human diseases – chief among them is cancer. Sean Parker, cofounder of Napster, committed $250 million to developing new cancer treatments. And a coalition of philanthropists led by Michael Bloomberg is adding another $100 million to the cancer research pot.
 

But despite huge financial investments in cancer research, some studies find that new cancer drugs approved in the last decade have only improved survival marginally. This poses serious ethical concerns for Peter Wise, a bioethicist who voiced his opinions in a BMJ article.
 
For Wise, expensive new drugs that prolong survival by one or two months does not quite justify the increasing cancer costs to the patient and the healthcare system. And perhaps, at the end of the day, it’s the pharmaceutical companies that make the biggest profit with these new drugs, not the patients. Indeed, in 2015 alone, global sales of cancer drugs topped $150 billion dollars.
 
"The approval of drugs with such small survival benefits raises ethical questions, including whether recipients are aware of the drugs' limited benefits, whether the high cost to benefit ratios are justified, and whether trials are providing the right information," Wise wrote.
 


Importantly, the article is not a complete dismissal of the value of cancer research. Wise noted that the five-year survival mark has increased from 49 percent to 68 percent in the past four decades. This jump in survival surely would not have been possible without the treatment advances in this time.
 
But Wise argues that the improvement in cancer survival may not all be due to new drugs. Other factors, such as better education, changing lifestyles, improved screening and prevention measures may have also contributed to the fight against cancer.
 
Wise also brings up potential patient misinformation with every new cancer drug. Yes, new drugs bring hope and excitement to cancer patients, but Wise cautions against leading patients to have unrealistic expectations with new drugs.

"Good cancer care demands empowerment of patients with accurate, impartial information followed by genuinely informed consent in both the clinical trial and therapeutic settings," Wise wrote. "Ethical impediments to sound practice need to be addressed and corrected."

"Above all, the threshold for approval of new and existing cancer drugs needs to be raised - using more meaningful disease specific criteria of risk-benefit and cost-benefit," he concluded.
 
Additional sources: MNT
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
SEP 18, 2020
Coronavirus
How Coronavirus Spread in the US and Europe
SEP 18, 2020
How Coronavirus Spread in the US and Europe
Researchers are beginning to examine how the world's response to the pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2 went wrong, and right ...
SEP 21, 2020
Cancer
The Protein ETV1 May Act as a Biomarker for Gastrointestinal Cancer
SEP 21, 2020
The Protein ETV1 May Act as a Biomarker for Gastrointestinal Cancer
Cancer is an incredibly diverse disease. It has many types and even sub-types, with a vast range of characteristics. Som ...
OCT 07, 2020
Cancer
Delivering Cancer Drugs to Osteosarcoma with Nanoparticles
OCT 07, 2020
Delivering Cancer Drugs to Osteosarcoma with Nanoparticles
Over the years, cancer researchers have struggled not just with drug and diagnostic design, but with drug delivery. The ...
NOV 12, 2020
Immunology
Anti-bodies against a sugar present in meat and dairy products can increase the risk of Colorectal Cancer
NOV 12, 2020
Anti-bodies against a sugar present in meat and dairy products can increase the risk of Colorectal Cancer
Nutrition is essential to health; what we eat in our daily diet affects our overall health condition and what diseases w ...
NOV 16, 2020
Cancer
Fingerprinting Ginger Extracts and Testing Their Anti-Cancer Abilities
NOV 16, 2020
Fingerprinting Ginger Extracts and Testing Their Anti-Cancer Abilities
Modern medicine relies on careful study and isolation of compounds or proteins, but many studies point to natural herbal ...
NOV 14, 2020
Cancer
New intravenous anti-cancer therapy crosses blood-brain barrier
NOV 14, 2020
New intravenous anti-cancer therapy crosses blood-brain barrier
New research from the University of Michigan reports for the first time a new synthetic protein nanoparticle that is abl ...
Loading Comments...