Extending the lives of cancer patients, but at what cost ?

CANCER-articleInlineThe Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved Celgene’s drug Abraxane for use in treating advanced pancreatic cancer which in clinical trials prolonged the lives of patients by a little less than two months on average.  Celgene said the drug would cost $6,000 to $8,000 a month but the drug can depress levels of white blood cells and platelets and raise the risk of bacterial bloodstream infections and lung inflammation. 

Make no mistake about it pancreatic cancer is a horrible disease that is usually diagnosed to late.  There will be about 45,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed in the United States this year and about 38,000 deaths, making it the fourth-leading cause of cancer death.  However  Abraxane did provide a statistically significant improvement in survival. In its main clinical trial, patients who received Abraxane and gemcitabine lived a median of 8.5 months, compared to 6.7 months for those receiving only gemcitabine.  So the question then becomes what is the value of extending life almost another two months ?

Focus on patients..

Nobody can put themselves in the place of a patient who is facing his/her own mortality from pancreatic cancer but from a patient’s perspective would they be willing to try new drugs that potentially have horrible side effects for another 6 weeks of life ? The answer of course is going to vary by patient but it should be made clear to these patients what their quality of life is going to be with this new drug.

Let’s be honest the real reason for this drug that sales for that use could eventually exceed $750 million annually.  It’s my hope that someday we think in terms of quality of life when it comes to cancer drugs not just extending life.

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