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September 2017

The High Cost of New Cancer Therapies—A Challenge of Inequality for All Countries

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
  • 2Department of Oncology, Clinical Cancer Research Center, Aalborg University Hospital, Aalborg, Denmark
JAMA Oncol. 2017;3(9):1169-1170. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.6335

When people or governments cannot afford effective and potentially life-saving or life-prolonging treatments, we usually think of this situation affecting low-resource countries in the Third World. When antiretroviral HIV medications increased life expectancy almost to normal throughout much of the world, hundreds of thousands died in African countries, in part due to the high cost of medications. Ford et al1 in 2011 stated, “Early concerns about the cost and complexity of treatment were overcome thanks to the efforts of a global coalition of health providers, activists, academics, and people living with HIV/AIDS, who argued that every effort must be made to ensure access to essential care when millions of lives depended on it.” The authors also referred to an important court case in Thailand in 2002, in which 2 patients with HIV won the case against Bristol-Myers-Squibb to override the patent of an antiretroviral drug; thus, much cheaper generics could be produced. Patents can lead to high prices and limit access to medications; consequently, patients are “injured” by high prices, which can challenge the legality of high prices. The ruling had great international implications both for health care and human rights.2