Cancer drugs costs 30% less than thought

September 10, 2009
Tracey Walker

She is senior editor of Managed Healthcare Executive.

A Cornell study finds that the true cost of cancer drugs is 30% less than a decade ago, once longevity and quality of life are considered.

Cornell University researchers have found that the true cost of cancer drugs is 30% less than a decade ago, once longevity and quality of life are considered, in a study released last week.

“A Quality-Adjusted Price Index for Colorectal Cancer Drugs,” published by National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), draws on the experiences of thousands colon cancer patients and treatment decisions by oncologists nationwide.

Cornell’s researchers analyzed the real-world treatment data collected through clinical software. New drugs, like Avastin and Erbitux, are boosting survival rates.

Today’s leading drugs for colorectal cancer are typically used in new and constantly evolving combinations, which increase the efficacy of treatments and the options available to more patients.

Patients treated with one popular combination report a mean survival of 23.2 months, compared with the mean survival rate of 12.5 months when patients received just one of the drugs which was the standard of care in 1996. The early treatments were effective for just a small percentage of the patient population.

One of the combinations studied by the Cornell team is bevacizumab (Avastin) + oxaliplatin (Eloxatin) + 5-FU/leucovorin.

Today’s most commonly prescribed 24-week course of treatment costs an average of $36,000, a dramatic increase over the price of a decade ago. Yet the Cornell study shows that adjusting cost for quality-accounting for the far greater efficacy of today’s treatments-prices have actually declined.

The Cornell study begins by estimating the financial value that physicians place on eight different attributes of a chemotherapy drug, such as the average number of months that patients live if they are taking the drug, or the percentage of patients that experience a severe side effect. Researchers then create a price index by applying these physician value assessments to changes in drug attributes between 1993 and 2005.

“Instead of focusing on the cost of a specific drug dosage cost, cancer or otherwise, it is essential that we look at the big picture costs that include all aspects of quality of life,” says Peggy C. Frank, MBA CEO, Frank Public Relations Worldwide, Westlake Village, Calif.

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