The cost of cancer drugs

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Source: Sydney Morning Herald – Kate Hagan.

Jacques Meschemberg was a self-confessed ”gym junkie” who loved working as a dentist and wanted to continue doing so well into the future when he started having problems with swallowing. The normally healthy 65-year-old made a rare visit to his doctor, who ordered a barrage of tests and wondered if the problem might be a hernia.

Meschemberg wished it had been that simple when he became one of the 124,900 Australians last year diagnosed with cancer.

Oncologist Ian Haines says drug companies used to charge what a drug was worth, but now charge what the market will bear. 

The cancer was in his oesophagus and Meschemberg soon discovered its growth was being fuelled by a protein called human epidermal growth factor (HER-2). Genetic abnormalities were causing his cancer cells to make an excess of this protein, helping them to multiply.

Meschemberg, who just a few years earlier had moved with his wife to Melbourne to spend more time with their adult daughters, suddenly faced an uncertain future.

A decade ago a drug called Herceptin revolutionised treatment of HER-2- positive breast cancer. It blocks chemical signals that tell cancer cells to grow in about 20 per cent of breast cancer patients and has added years to many patients’ lives.

The government today subsidises Herceptin for any woman with HER-2-positive breast cancer. Patients with advanced cancers receive the drug free, and those with early-stage cancers contribute about $37.

Now, there is emerging evidence that Herceptin can help patients such as Meschemberg, who are among the 10 per cent of gastric cancer patients with the HER-2 gene abnormality.

His oncologist at Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Professor John Zalcberg, believed Herceptin the best way to treat Meschemberg’s cancer.

But there was a catch. Australian authorities had rejected applications for the drug to be subsidised for gastric cancer, deeming its benefits too uncertain for its $50,000-a-year cost. That left Meschemberg searching for another way to fund his treatment…Read the full article.

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The ONA Editor curates oncology news, views and reviews from Australia and around the world for our readers. In aggregated content, original sources will be acknowledged in the article footer.

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