Avastin: Why Does This Cancer Drug Cost So Much?
July 22, 2008
Despite a price that can reach $100,000 a year, Avastin has become one of the most popular cancer drugs in the world. In 2007, sales of the drug reached $3.5 billion, with $2.3 billion in the United States.
But studies show the drug prolongs life by only a few months, if that. And some newer studies suggest the drug might be less effective against cancer than the FDA believed when the drug was approved.
Avastin also has serious, if infrequent, side effects, some of which can be lethal. And because it is almost always used with standard chemotherapy, patients on Avastin also face chemotherapy’s side effects.
If Avastin were inexpensive, or if it truly held cancer at bay, few might care. But Avastin raises troubling questions. What does it mean to say the drug works? Is slowing the growth of tumors enough if life is not significantly prolonged or improved? How much evidence should there be before billions of dollars are spent on a drug? And when should cost be factored into the equation?
Some in the pharmaceutical industry believe that the price of Avastin will raise concerns about whether drugs are worth it, leading to a backlash like price controls or restrictions on use.