Drugmakers angle for longer-term chemo

What's almost as good as sales from a new cancer drug? Bigger sales of an old one. That's one reason why drugmakers are pushing hard for long-term chemotherapy. As Eli Lilly nabbed the first FDA approval for maintenance lung cancer therapy--for Alimta--other pharma companies are doing studies in hopes of proving their own meds worthy.

Among those hopefuls is Revlimid, the Celgene multiple myeloma drug. "This is clearly a game-changing opportunity," VP Brian P. Gill told investors in March (as quoted by the New York Times). Then there's Tarceva, the OSI Pharmaceuticals/Roche drug, which the companies are trying to position as a maintenance drug in lung cancer. And in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: Rituxan, marketed by Genentech and Biogen Idec. Some of these drugs are already being used off-label as maintenance therapies, but FDA approval would no doubt broaden that use.

One of the reasons maintenance therapy is even an option is that newer-generation cancer meds tend to have fewer side effects than old-style chemo drugs. But those new meds also come with a higher price tag. And some experts think longer-term drug treatment doesn't have enough benefits to justify the cost--in dollars or in side effects. Drugmakers may want their meds "to be used as early as possible and as long as possible," as Indiana University's Lawrence Einhorn told the Times. But "there are numerous kinds of cost to the patient, to the health system to give these drugs over the longer term," a multiple myeloma advocate said. What do you think?

- see the NYT story