Two Pills, $200,000, Can We Afford it?

June 24, 2013
102 Views

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(Editor’s Note: This exclusive post is from one of our distinguished Advisory Board members, Andrew Schorr, author, medical journalist and cancer survivor.  Andrew is currently living in Barcelona, Spain, and reporting to us from there.)


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(Editor’s Note: This exclusive post is from one of our distinguished Advisory Board members, Andrew Schorr, author, medical journalist and cancer survivor.  Andrew is currently living in Barcelona, Spain, and reporting to us from there.)


It is an “exciting” time on many levels in modern medicine, especially when it comes to the treatment of a number of cancers. So called “small molecule, targeted therapies, are being approved by the FDA and more are coming, even anointed with “breakthrough” status. For patients with conditions like chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a condition I was successfully treated for a number of years ago, there are new pills coming that are expected to greatly help even the sickest patients. Extending lives and returning many people to a high quality of life. The same has happened in other leukemias, lymphomas, myeloma, some lung cancers, some breast cancers, and advanced melanoma.  Pharnaceutical researchers have been figuring out how to turn off mutated genes that fuel cancer cell growth or prevent a cancer cell from dying. The science is very cool and the impact for patients is great.

ImageBut there’s a looming impact on our healthcare costs too. Here’s a very personal example. About a year ago I was diagnosed with a second cancer, myelofibrosis or early scarring in my bone marrow. Maybe it came from my earlier leukemia, maybe from the chemo I had years ago. Maybe not. No one knows. But the good news is there is a breakthrough new class of medicines that reverses the bad symptoms, like enlarged spleen, and the first approved medicine, a twice daily pill, allows me to lead a very full life. No symptoms and new evidence, in a just released study, of extended survival. What’s the downside? The cost is $7,700 a month. Thank God I have insurance that pays for it!

 
Now there’s more. Doctor and scientists want to kill as many cancer cells as possible to cure diseases like mine or help us live longer. Researchers thing by combining two or more new medicines they’ll get the job done more effectively. So maybe $7,700 a month + $7,700 a month for four little white pills a day. It’s exhilarating to think, as we age and are more likely to develop cancer, a few pills can send us on our way back to the golf course or bridge table. But how in the world will we afford this?
 
The drug companies are in a great position right now. Develop pills and make cancer chronic. Get paid back a lot for your drug development and then, for a few years, make boatloads of money. Believe me, I am really thankful for the drug development. I am just hoping smarter people than I am – maybe like you, dear reader – can tell us how all this will work out.
 
Wishing YOU the best of health and that those little white pills are there for you, if and when you need them!
 
Andrew Schorr, Barcelona

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