Study: Herceptin helps gastric cancer patients, but is costly

A study in the Lancet has found that Roche's cancer drug Herceptin helps patients with gastric cancer live longer. However, in a comment in reaction to the piece, experts express concern about the drug's high price.

In an open-label, multi-national, randomized, controlled Phase III trial, patients received either Herceptin (trastuzumab) plus chemotherapy or chemotherapy alone. Median overall survival was 13.8 months in those assigned to trastuzumab plus chemotherapy compared with 11.1 months in the chemotherpay alone group.

"Trastuzumab in combination with chemotherapy can be considered as a new standard option for patients with HER2-positive advanced gastric or gastro-oesophageal junction cancer," the study summary notes.

But some, as the Wall Street Journal notes, question the cost-effectiveness of the treatment. "There are...problems with affordability," write Alastair Munro and Paddy Niblock of the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, University of Dundee, UK. Their comment was published as a reaction to the study.

"If we presuppose that only randomised trials produce evidence of sufficient quality to support decisions about the allocation of scarce resources, there is a problem," they note. "There is a lot of evidence on the effects of adding expensive new drugs to conventional therapies, but little evidence for when older, less expensive interventions are combined. The evidence we have might not be the evidence we need, and the evidence that we need may never become available."

"Cost per life-year gained around GBP55,000," they write. "In the 24 countries that contributed to the study, yearly health expenditure per citizen varies from $40 to $5500," the WSJ quotes the pair as saying.

- see the study summary
- check out the WSJ's coverage
- read Phys.Org's report