Karol Sikora is an extremely eminent man. Clearly bright. But somewhat lacking in logic:
The fact that the populations of the Western world are ageing, together with our increasingly unhealthy lifestyles, is dramatically increasing the incidence of cancer.
If we are all living longer then we do not have increasingly unhealthy lifestyles. Increasingly unhealthy lifestyles would show up in our all living fewer, not more, years.
This is just simple, basic, logic.
The other more basic problem is that when discussing the costs of the new cancer drugs no one seems to be looking at the patent system.
No, I don’t mean whether this is the right way to research or pay for the research into new drugs. Rather, that by definition, these new drugs are not going to be expensive forever. It isn’t some huge cost that is forever going to rise: it’s a bolus of costs passing through the system, like a pig through a snake.
Because patents run out, the development costs (those hundreds of millions on the Phase III trials mostly) have been paid…..or not paid for an unsuccessful drug but that’s Big Pharma’s problem…..and these drugs now out of patent can be priced at or around their average production cost, not above their sunk cost.
The drug which is patented today becomes cheap in 17 years time. The drug which is approved today after trials is likely to be cheap in 10 years time (yes, patents run from time of patent, not time of approval). Herceptin comes off patent in 2015 or so: so all our arguments about the high cost per month of life gained change around and about then.
The same is true of all these other expensive drugs.
Someone, somewhere, whether through patents, direct taxpayer subsidy, auctions, prizes, whatever, needs to pay these development costs. Once they’re paid all of these treatments are going to get a lot cheaper which really does change all of the calculations that we’re making.
And what annoys me is that this basic fact doesn’t seem to enter into the public conversation.
Herceptin may or may not become as cheap as aspirin: but it sure as hell ain’t gonna stay at $100,000 per treatment per year.