$30K per month: Too much for a cancer drug?

How much is too much to pay for a cancer drug? New York Times healthcare writer Andrew Pollack examines the case of Folotyn, Allos Therapeutics' recently-approved cancer drug. Folotyn is indicated for peripheral T-cell lymphoma, a rare cancer that affects 5,600 Americans each year and has no other FDA approved treatments. The drug--Allos' first and only on the market--was approved in September and is now available at the cost of $30,000 per month. In clinical trials Folotyn was found to shrink tumors in those with the disease; however, it's not clear yet whether it contributes to overall prolonged survival.

With its $30,000 per month price tag, Folotyn makes other super-expensive drugs like Erbitux ($10,000 a month) and Avastin ($8,800 a month) look almost affordable. Allos points out that patients receive Folotyn for only a few months, and that it's priced similarly to other treatments for rare cancers. Genzyme's Clolar, which is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia, costs $34,000 per week. However, most patients only need a two-week treatment course. Genzyme also markets Campath, which treats another form of blood cancer and costs $5,000 per week. Patients generally take Campath for several weeks. GSK and Gloucester Pharmaceuticals also have expensive drugs for rare cancers.

Despite Allos' justifications, critics are still taking issue with the cancer drug's price in light of its limited benefit. "It dampens my enthusiasm for using that drug," said Dr. Brad Kahl, a lymphoma specialist at the University of Wisconsin, during an FDA advisory committee meeting in September. "It creates these huge ethical quandaries about trying a drug that has a modest benefit for the average patient at enormous expense." 

- read the NYT article for more
- here's the Health Blog write-up