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Health Agencies Update
August 26, 2009

Cancer Drug Costs

JAMA. 2009;302(8):838. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1173

Citing the extremely high cost of many cancer drugs that produce only a marginal survival benefit, scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center and the National Cancer Institute are urging the oncology community, regulators, drug makers, and the public to begin to set limits on the use or pricing of such drugs.

The scientists noted that 90% of the anticancer drugs or biologics approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the past 4 years cost more than $20 000 for a 12-week regimen, but many offer an additional survival benefit of only 2 months or less (Fojo T and Grady C. J Natl Cancer Inst. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djp177 [published online ahead of print June 29, 2009]). For example, a study presented in 2008 found that adding cetuximab to other chemotherapies extended life by only 1.2 months at considerable cost: in the United States, 18 weeks of the drug cost $80 000, which translates to $800 000 for a single additional year of life for 1 patient. The researchers also point out that many studies that do demonstrate a small survival benefit do not take into account a patient's quality of life.

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