Oncology pipeline huge, but costly

oncology-drugs-250x250KEY TAKEAWAY: The oncology drug pipeline is far larger than any other therapy area across the pharmaceutical industry, with 6,484 products in active development across all indications, but 90% of these drugs will not make it into Phase III clinical trials.

We are learning a lot about fighting cancer while new cancer therapies are extending the lives of patients. The cancer death rate has fallen by 20% since its peak in 1991, in large part due to medicines. Survival is increasing dramatically for many forms of cancer.

The five year survival rate has increased

  • 21% for breast cancer;
  • 50% for prostate cancer;
  • 36% for colon cancer
  • 54% for lung cancer.


The five year survival rate for patients with leukemia has nearly tripled since the early 1990s.
For children, the five year relative survival rate increased from 58% in the mid-1970s to 83% today due to new and improved treatments.

However, with all this good news there is a storm on the horizon.  Oncologists are calling for the drug industry to examine the prices for new oncology drugs which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.  Of course older patients are covered by Medicare, which negotiates prices for these drugs, but patients who are not eligible for Medicare often find that insurers are raising copays for new cancer drugs.


So how can cancer patients afford these new medications?  That is something drug makers are going to have to ask themselves.  While it seems that the answer might be to get these drugs to patients who can’t afford them insurers could, in theory, just deny coverage forcing pharma to allocate more product to patients in need.

Senior pharma executives need to think strategically about the challenge of delivering new drugs versus the cost to patients and profit to the company and its shareholders.  Pharma already has some pretty healthy profit margins, but how much should be returned to shareholders vs. actually helping patients get the medicine they need?  That is the billion dollar question and there are no easy answers…

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