Cancer drugs: Increasing access and dealing with rising costs

New President’s Cancer Panel series

PCP logoThe President’s Cancer Panel (PCP), which I’m privileged to chair, has begun work on a new series, through which we will develop constructive recommendations to address the rising cost of cancer drugs and the concern that many patients may not be able to afford the drugs. This is a real worry, as patients are left with more of their medical bills to pay out-of-pocket, potentially reducing access to life-saving and curative medications.

Andrew Schorr, founder and president of Patient Power, LLC, is a two-time cancer survivor.
Andrew Schorr, founder and president of Patient Power LLC, is a two-time cancer survivor.

At our meeting in New York last week, Andrew Schorr, who is founder and president of Patient Power LLC, a two-time cancer survivor and a great advocate for patients, showed us what he said was a $10,000 cancer drug pill—Ruxolitinib (generic) or Jakafi, made by Incyte—which is helping to keep him alive. It is simultaneously miraculous and shocking to contemplate the medical success story and the financial toxicity it could mean for many patients. Unless we find a way to manage both cost and access, we’ll increasingly face that stark reality, as precision medicine becomes the best treatment for more and more people with cancer.

“It’s your mortgage or your medicine,” said one patient at the meeting. That’s a terrible trade-off!

We’ll be looking at how drugs are priced, how value is established and what kinds of strategies might, in the future, enhance access and control costs while continuing to allow pharmaceutical companies to thrive and innovations to flourish. These are important considerations that really do have life-and-death consequences, and they must be addressed with all key stakeholders in the room—representatives from the pharmaceutical industry, insurance industry, academics and government, as well as patients, cancer care providers (broadly defined) and others. The convening power of the President’s Cancer Panel can facilitate this process.

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