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New Tool Compares Costs and Benefits of Cancer Treatments

Big-ticket drug-makers are in the cross-hairs

As options for cancer patients become increasingly complicated and expensive, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) will offer a tool to assess the costs and benefits of available therapies, according to a report from Reuters.

The NCCN says its new tool will provide a clearer picture of the relative value of medication options, particularly in cases where a very expensive therapy does little to improve survival. Doctors developing the measures expect them to shift demand away from less-effective treatments, influencing the prices drug-makers are able to charge.

The NCCN, an alliance of 26 cancer centers, envisions the new tool as a supplement to its widely followed guidelines for oncology care, which set out protocols for treating a range of cancers based on diagnosis, disease stage, and other factors, such as age.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology is also developing a tool for valuing treatments, but says that its “net health benefit” scores will not consider costs, although prices will be noted alongside the scores. In addition, New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has launched an interactive calculator, called DrugAbacus, that allows users to decide how much one of 54 newer drugs should cost based on factors such as adverse effects and novelty.

The NCCN scale, to be launched in mid-October, will employ “evidence blocks” that assign a score of up to five points for each of five measures –– price, effectiveness, safety, quality, and consistency of clinical data. Initially, the scale will evaluate drugs used for multiple myeloma and chronic myeloid leukemia. Similar guidelines are expected for most other types of cancer by the end of 2016. Eventually, the comparison tool will be incorporated into health care technology systems used by hospitals, including products from IBM Watson and McKesson.

The sort of cost-benefit analysis the NCCN has undertaken could threaten drug-makers such as Roche, Novartis, and Celgene, which earn billions of dollars annually from cancer therapies that may do little to extend a patient’s life or that come with severe adverse effects, Reuters says.

Worldwide spending on cancer medications reached $100 billion in 2014, up from $75 billion just five years earlier, according to IMS Health. U.S. spending accounted for 42% of that total.

Patient advocates have traditionally warned against treatment decisions that factor in a drug’s price, saying such considerations could lead to “rationed” health care –– but at the same time, patients worry about costs. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 87% of Americans surveyed wanted changes to U.S. law that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug discounts.

Source: Reuters; August 21, 2015.

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