Researchers call high cost of cancer drugs 'unsustainable'

The high price of immunotherapies and other specialized cancer drugs threatens the financial sustainability of cancer treatment, according to researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research in London and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

While many scientific advances are being made in the realm of cancer treatments, "innovation is meaningless if nobody can afford it," wrote the researchers in a paper published in Cell.

"There is a clear and urgent necessity to lower cancer drug prices to keep lifesaving drugs available and affordable to patients," the researchers said.

Drug companies often justify high drug costs by citing the large costs associated with clinical trials for new cancer treatments. However, targeted drugs now require tests to assess whether patients will respond to the treatment, which allows for much smaller clinical trials.

"Some drugs are tested on 50 or 100 patients and yet these drugs still go to [the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] at the maximum price," Paul Workman, PhD, lead author and chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, told The Guardian.

"It is unsustainable," Dr. Workman said. "For those of us involved in research, it is disturbing that the amount of research that goes on and the success that is made is not translated into treatment for patients. And for patients it is a terrible situation."

The researchers propose academic research centers should partner with new commercial partners — like smaller biotechs and generic drug firms — to take greater control of the drugs they discover and ensure affordability, according to the report.

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