Powerful cancer alliance joins cost-effectiveness drug crusade

Dr. Robert Carlson

The American Society of Clinical Oncology unveiled its framework for assessing cancer drugs earlier this summer, breaking new ground in helping doctors size up competing treatments. Now, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network is going a few steps farther.

As Reuters reports, the NCCN will offer a tool to compare various drugs by their costs, benefits and side effects, in an effort to steer demand away from costly drugs that do little to improve patients' survival.

An alliance of 26 top U.S. cancer treatment centers, the NCCN already publishes influential treatment guidelines that advise doctors on treatment, taking into account disease stage, patients' underlying health, and cancer type. The idea is to add the new cost-effectiveness tool into this mix, first on the NCCN website and in print--and eventually, within healthcare IT systems used by hospitals, the news service notes.

"A company that has an effective drug that's appropriately priced should welcome [the new assessments]," NCCN chief Dr. Robert Carlson told Reuters. "If a drug is overpriced, "that's very important information for everybody."

To be launched in October, the tool will assign scores to each drug in 5 areas--price, effectiveness, safety, quality and consistency of clinical data, Reuters notes. The first drugs to be evaluated will be treatments for two blood cancers, multiple myeloma and chronic myeloid leukemia (CLL), with most other cancers to follow by the end of next year.

The NCCN plan comes amid intense focus on drug prices--and as the prices of new cancer drugs routinely top $100,000 per patient. Though some of the newest, most expensive treatments have won kudos as true breakthroughs, other less well-regarded drugs have also made their debuts with huge price tags.

In addition to ASCO's drug-evaluation framework, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's drug economics arm has rolled out its own drug-evaluation tool, DrugAbacus, to shine a spotlight on costly drugs with marginal survival benefits--and conversely, those that significantly prolong patients' lives. In a less formal effort, one MD Anderson Cancer Center doctor has taken to Twitter to stir up public sentiment against rising prices on cancer treatment.

- read the Reuters news

Special Reports: Top 10 best-selling cancer drugs of 2013 | Top 10 most expensive drugs of 2013