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Doctors Come Together To Criticize Cancer Drug Costs

Update Date: Apr 27, 2013 12:57 PM EDT

With or without insurance, the costs of medical treatments and drugs are still alarmingly high. With recent studies concluding that certain tests might be unnecessary while others might cost more depending on the hospital, the cost of care is starting to become more and more unaffordable. In the latest attack against medical costs, over 100 doctors worldwide have come together to sign a letter that criticizes the extremely high expenses of cancer drug treatments particularly within the United States. In the letter, the doctors reached out to pharmaceutical companies and asked them to find ways of lowering prices.

Within this letter, the doctors, who are all specialists in chronic myeloid leukemia, addressed several issues concerning the costs of cancer drugs. This form of leukemia affects 1.5 million people globally. In 2011, the United States alone racked up $2.7 trillion in healthcare costs, which is roughly 18 percent of the nation's gross domestic profit (GDP). This percentage fell between six and nine in European nations. Although the costs for cancer drugs do vary depending on region and economy, the prices are still too high within the U.S. The letter, which was signed by lead author, Hagop Kantarjian of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, explained that prices in Europe are maintained by the universal healthcare system. The patients there are protected from the high costs of these drugs. The prices within the states, however, are burdening the people.

"Of the 12 drugs approved by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) for various cancer indications in 2012, 11 were priced above $100,000 per year," the doctors wrote.  "Cancer drug prices have almost doubled from a decade ago, from an average of $5,000 per month to more than $10,000 per month. [U.S.] patients may pay an average of 20 percent of drug prices out-of-pocket (about $20-30,000 per year, a quarter to a third of an average household budget) and...medical illnesses and drug prices are the single most frequent cause of personal bankruptcies."

The doctors call on pharmaceutical companies to find ways of lowering their prices because the costs are unbearable on the patients. They singled out Novartis' imantinib, known as Gleevec in the U.S. and Gilvec in other regions of the world, which produced $4.7 billion in profits just last year. The drug was first released in 2001 and was priced at $30,000 per year and is now costing people $92,000 per year. The doctors noted that this same exact drug costs people in France, China, Australia, South Korea and Mexico nearly half that amount.

Due to these discrepancies between costs in different countries, the doctors know that these drug prices could be lowered if the companies choose to do so, which is why this letter was written to call for a change.

The paper was published in the journal, Blood. 

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