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National News

April 28, 2013

Cancer Therapies' Cost Keeps Drugs From Patients, Doctors Say

WASHINGTON — Cancer medicines that cost more than $100,000 a year aren't morally justifiable and may keep patients from getting life-saving treatments, a group of more than 100 leukemia doctors said.

Of the 12 cancer medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration last year, 11 cost more than $100,000 annually, the physicians said in an article in Blood, the journal of the American Society of Hematology, published online Thursday.

The paper highlights the debate over how much leeway drugmakers should have in setting the prices of new cancer medicines and whether pricing practices harm patients and health-care systems. While companies should be allowed to profit, a product that can help a patient survive should be priced affordably, the cancer specialists said.

"Hopes that the fundamentals of a free market economy and market competition will settle cancer drug prices at lower levels have not been fulfilled," the doctors said in the paper.

Drugmakers said they charge prices for their treatments that were lower than those quoted in the article and pointed to assistance programs provided to help patients afford their medications.

Pfizer Inc., whose leukemia medicine Bosulif was approved in December and priced about $98,000, helps financially eligible patients get their prescriptions for free or at a savings, and insured patients pay no more than $50 a month, said Victoria Davis, a spokeswoman for New York-based Pfizer, the world's biggest drugmaker. The article said Bosulif costs $118,000 annually.

"We wholeheartedly agree that patients should have access to the medications they need and Pfizer has developed various programs to support CML patients gaining access to Bosulif," Davis said.

The paper was written by doctors who are specialists in chronic myeloid leukemia, which accounts for about 10 percent of the 48,610 new leukemia cases estimated by the National Cancer Institute. The survival rate hovers about 60 percent for the disease in the United States, compared with 80 percent in Sweden. Costs in Sweden are managed and patients may be more likely to comply with treatment while they don't have the same cost concerns as U.S. patients, the doctors said.

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