A new breed of cancer drugs Biologics
Cancer drugs are changing fast. And Biologics are a part of this. One day soon (hopefully) the Weapons of Mass Destruction called chemotherapy drugs will be gone, to be replaced by clever Biologic drugs made by Biotech firms from living matter, targeted for purpose to a specific factor, and with supposedly fewer side effects. Think Herceptin (for breast cancer), Rituxan (for Non-Hodgkins lymphoma) or Avastin (for various cancers).
The clever drugs target a genetic factor, an enzyme or a protein unique to your type of cancer cells, leaving your healthy cells untouched.
In the case of the cancer drug Herceptin, it is used to treat the roughly 20 per cent of women who are HER-2 positive; that is they have this protein driving their cancer. While it is effective for these women, it is of little use to the 80 poer cent not HER positive.
Biologics are the way forward - the new breed of cancer drugs, tailor made to you and your cancer. You can stop reading here, or you can discover the longer term issue - they cost a lot - I mean a LOT - of money.
The Cost of Living
These drugs dont stop at cancer. For example Enerel is used to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lantus and Novolog are both used with Diabetes. In the US alone last year there were 633 biotechnology drugs in development according to an investigation by American Time magazine recently.
But they dont come cheap! A couple of years ago one of our CANCERactive patrons, Professor Karol Sikora, opined that by 2025 oncologists would have the amoury to hold your cancer at bay for many years (rather like diabetics live with their disease). The issue would be Can we afford to pay? According to the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Texas, a sort of sequential treatment is the end game. First we treat you with drug A which buys you 5 years; then we try drug B which gives you another 3. At the end of the 8 years, we have provably discovered drug C and that will keep you going for a further 4 years. The only downside they see is: Can your body take the side effects. The logic is simple: With 85 per cent of cancers coming to the over 60 age group, if they can get you to your 75th birthday, then you can be content that you have lived to a normal life expectancy.
On the cost front the prices are daunting. In a previous article we quoted the usual argument from Big Pharma that these drugs cost serious money to develop. This argument was rather spoiled by one of the top firms who simply said that these new drugs were brilliant and customers would have to pay their worth!
This tough, almost monopolistic, stance is somewhat nearer the truth. In BJM a couple of years ago some anti-vitamin/complementary Professor was pontificating about the UK Complementary Industry being worth a massive $800 million. To put this in context, every drugs company in the top 50 in the Western World, has a turnover of over $1.5 billion. AstraZeneca delivered profits of over $8 billion last year. Herceptin has world wide sales of nearly $6 billion and Avastinover $9 billion.
The long-term hope is that cheaper generic drugs can save the day. After all, the official US figure for the drug savings in the last 10 years alone made from switching to generics in the USA is $734 billion!
But dont hold your breath. The US Senate House Energy and Commerce Committee met in summer 2009 to decide how long a Biologic drug could be loose on the world before a generic could be launched. The chairman advocated 5 years, but was over-ruled by the committee members, who though 12 years was more appropriate. By Time Magazines calculations, Big Pharma had been spending a whopping $609,000 per day (Yes, Per Day!) to influence the decision. It is not unknown for a drug company to spend several million on lobbying fees. Others are not so indirect. Time Magazine quotes direct donations to a Senator.s campaign funds of $5 million in one case. Advocacy groups, charities, journalists and Health workers join a long list of people who have been lobbied or have received funds directly or indirectly.
Time quotes one economist, writing a report on it all, who said, You cant get on the phone to someone who isnt paid!
Big Pharma have been buying up smaller Biotech firms with successful drugs for considerable sums. They are merely protecting their interests. Their very sizeable and profitable interests. One UK Newspaper estimate put the cancer drug industry at $75 billion for 2010, although people I talked to said that figure was way too low..
But what has this all to do with your cancer. Firstly, better drugs, more tightly targeted, with less side-effects are coming. Secondly they are going to need paying for they are not cheap. Thirdly, the problem is that these new drugs have largely come from a bright new industry, all innovating in areas that were not the traditional home of big pharma. If the new drugs are protected for 12 years, it wont just be the high cost of developing a new wonder drug, or even the risks of failure that may prohibit its launch. A bright new Californian Company simply might not be prepared to wait 12 years. Many argue that there should be no licence protective period. The risks and the costs are enough of a burden.
The only person who will suffer in the end is you. In your pocket and in your body, if the new Biologic innovations do dry up.