Pharmaceutical giant Roche is a stellar example of why the profit motive in any sector of healthcare can be such a problem. They’ve developed a revolutionary cancer drug, known as Kadcyla, that could help patients with certain types of breast cancer live an average of 6 months longer. Awesome, right? Sadly, it’s priced it at £90,000 per patient in the U.K. Breast cancer survivor Margaret Connolly posted a petition on The Petition Site demanding that Roche make Kadcyla affordable enough to available to all.
According to the petition, the problem is so egregious that Roche’s head of pricing, Jennifer Cozzone, apparently said that the price of the drug reflects the value to patients. How wonderful. They’re putting a price tag on someone’s life; except it’s telling them that’s the price they’ll have to pay if they want to go on living for awhile. So, if a patient in the U.K. really wants their life expectancy extended, they’ll find a way to cough up the price of a small house, even if it means sacrificing the rest of their livelihood.
Kadcyla has also been approved for use here in the U.S. It’s manufactured and distributed by Roch-owned Genentech, with a price tag of $94,000 per patient per year, according to a 2013 article in Forbes. The income of the average U.S. family is less than half of that. That’s less than the U.K. price tag, though. How generous of Genentech to do that.
Genentech spokesman Ed Lang said that they took into account the price per month of the drugs Tykerb and Xeloda, which, when combined, cost roughly $10,460 per month. Kadcyla only costs $9,800 per month. What a price difference. Tykerb and Xeoloda are currently the standard treatment for the types of breast cancer that Kadcyla will treat; hence why Genentech took their prices into consideration.
One has to ask, do these prices really reflect the cost to develop, test, and bring the drug to market? Or are they distorted by the profit motive so rampant in Big Pharma? Families of terminal cancer patients get bankrupted because of nonsense like this. Because it was totally their loved one’s choice to get sick.
In the U.K., the drug is actually so expensive that’s it out of the U.K.’s National Health Service’s (NHS) reach. So any U.K. patients who want this drug, who don’t have private insurance that will cover it, will have to pay for it entirely out of pocket. According to The Independent, pricing it affordably enough for the NHS would reach roughly 1,500 women. That’s hardly an insignificant number.
Here, we appear to have something that the U.K. doesn’t. Forbes mentioned that Genentech runs a program aimed at people who can’t afford the cost-of-a-small-house price tag. For those that qualify, Genenetech will provide Kadcyla at a substantially reduced cost, or even free of charge. There’s a good chance that there are people out there who are too wealthy to qualify for that program, and too poor to afford the drug. It’s hard to determine whether insurance covers Kadcyla in such a way that it would be affordable to the average patient.
According to The Indepedent’s piece, the outcry over this in the U.K really began over the summer, when Roche flat-out refused to cut the price sufficiently to make the drug affordable enough for the NHS. Roche, on the other hand, claimed they offered a significant discount. The Independent did not say how much of a discount they offered.
The Independent also notes that Roche is worth $7.5 billion. We understand that it’s costly to develop and test new drugs. But this price tag is ridiculous, and Roche doesn’t seem to be able to justify it. “We have to make money” and “that’s the market price of similar drugs” becomes a sadistic refrain when we’re talking about real people’s lives.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons