Speakers at Ruesch Symposium Policy Forum Discuss the Cost of Cancer Care

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(December 18, 2015) — At the first policy briefing held during the annual symposium of the Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers, speakers focused on issues related to the cost and value of cancer care.

The December 3 briefing was part of “Fighting a Smarter War Against Cancer: A Four-Part Symposium,” held at Georgetown University Hotel & Conference Center. Approximately 400 attendees participated in the symposium, representing health care providers, the private sector, regulatory bodies, patients, caregivers and advocacy groups.

Four men sit in chairs onstage
From left: John Marshall, MD, Richard A. Moscicki, MD, Bill Chin, MD and Jeff Allen, PhD, moderator of the panel and executive director of Friends of Cancer Research

“All anybody is talking about this year is the cost of cancer care — the cost of health care in general and the cost of cancer care in specific,” said John Marshall, MD, director of the Ruesch Center, explaining how he chose the symposium’s topic. “And it is key to bring all of us as stakeholders together in order to really take apart the issues and understand them better.”

Researchers have made major strides towards improving survival rates for gastrointestinal cancers, Marshall said, but the gains have come at a disproportionately high price. For example, the current standard of care treatment for colon cancer costs $436 per day, compared with the previous treatment that cost $6 per day.

“We have made progress, there’s no question,” Marshall said. “We’ve tripled the survival in metastatic colon cancer and in many of the other GI cancers. We’ve made significant progress but at significant costs.”

The Growing Cost of Innovation

The rising price of research and development contributes substantially to the increasing cost of drugs. “The folks from PhRMA know well that it takes about 17 years from concept to approval — of the ones that make it to approval — and only about one in 10 make it through that process,” Marshall said.

Bill Chin, MD, executive vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs at PhRMA, concurred, adding that the cost of bringing a new drug to market can exceed $2 billion, after accounting for failures. Identifying the genetic mechanisms behind cancer and analyzing tumors at the molecular level will lead to the development of new innovative drugs, but cancer remains a complex disease that manifests differently in each individual, he said, making drug development a challenging process.

“America’s biopharmaceutical companies are committed to developing safe and effective new medicines for patients. For cancer patients especially, there is an urgent need for new treatments to combat these deadly diseases,” said Chin. “Our member companies work closely with patients, regulators, institutions and clinicians to get the safest, most effective medicines to patients as quickly as possible and in 2014, spent over $50 billion across the spectrum on research and development of new treatments and cures.”

Expedited Reviews for Breakthrough Drugs

The FDA strives to support innovation in the pharmaceutical industry by using incentives, including expedited review for drugs designated as breakthrough therapies, said Richard A. Moscicki, MD, deputy center director for science operations at the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. A drug may receive the breakthrough designation if it is intended to treat a serious or life-threatening condition, alone or in combination with other drugs, and if there is preliminary clinical evidence indicating that the drug may demonstrate significant improvement over existing therapies.

Since the FDA started offering the breakthrough designation, 99 drugs have received it — one-third of which are for the treatment of cancer — and 33 of the breakthrough drugs have received FDA approval, Moscicki said. “As we start to understand the molecular basis of these cancers, and the science that drives it forward, we at FDA have responded very quickly,” he said. “So innovation is happening and we’re getting these things out there pretty quick.”

About 800 medicines for the treatment of cancer are currently in the drug development pipeline, Chin said, and while some of those drugs may only treat a subset of the cancer patient population or incrementally improve survival rates, they each move the science forward and offer patients hope. “What we do today not only provides hope for current patients but also future patients,” he said.

Video and presentations from the Ruesch Symposium will be posted at ruesch.georgetown.edu.

Kat Zambon
GUMC Communications