Lifesaving drugs can be extremely expensive. Some cancer drugs can cost patients in excess of $100,000 a year. The increasing cost of cancer drugs has been part of the debate over the high cost of health care for several years. Some doctors have even publically protested their cost. Now more than 100 influential cancer specialists from all over the world are banding together in an attempt to persuade leading pharmaceutical companies to lower their prices. Some of these specialists are researchers who have close ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
The doctors and researchers have contended that the prices of drugs used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia, a deadly blood cancer, are astronomical and unsustainable. Additionally, they claim that they could also be immoral. Charging high prices for medicine needed to keep a person alive has been suggested to be profiteering. Lower drug prices are necessary if doctors are going to be able to do everything they can to save the lives of patients.
While the costs of other cancer drugs can be just as high, these specialists are focusing on the cancer that they know best, chronic myeloid leukemia. One of the drugs, Gleevec, used to treat this disease are extremely profitable. However, the pharmaceutical company that sells this drug has argued that few patients pay the full cost of the drug and that the high price of the drug reflects the high cost of research and the value of the drug to the patients that need it. It has been widely agreed that Gleevec and its rivals have turned what used to be a death sentence into a chronic disease. When Gleevec first came on the market 12 years ago it was at the cost of $30,000 a year in the United States. The price has since tripled even with competition from five new drugs which are even more expensive.
There has been debate over the cost of this drug in other countries as well. In India, the Supreme Court ruled that Gleevec could not be patented. This allowed for the use of generic alternatives that are far less expensive. However this is not the case in the United States where the cost of the drugs is twice as high as in other countries which use government pressure or price control to keep the high price of drugs down.
Some doctors are refusing to use more expensive drugs when less expensive drugs will have the same results. Doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York refused to use a new drug to treat colon cancer because it was twice as expensive as another drug and did not have better results. As a result of this refusal, the company that marketed the drug cut the prices in half.
The doctors say that while they favor a healthy pharmaceutical industry, they think the prices are higher than necessary to ensure the health of the industry. With pharmaceutical companies making so much profit from one drug, the question is when the company cross the line between essential profits to profiteering.
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