In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a technical report titled Pricing of cancer medicines and its impacts. In the report, the Organization suggested that cancer drugs are too expensive, pointing to data from the American Medical Association that said, for every dollar spent on research, drug companies make $14.50. The team of researchers explained the financial reasoning behind this: “Pharmaceutical companies set prices according to their commercial goals, with a focus on extracting the maximum amount that a buyer is willing to pay for a medicine.” They continued on to explain that the current approach to pricing in place by drug companies generally makes cancer medication unaffordable for patients, thereby preventing them from fully reaping the benefits.
In fact, WHO claimed that “The high financial returns from cancer medicines gained through high prices might have distorted research investment and stifled innovation.” Over the time period analyzed, there were substantially more clinical trials for cancer drugs as opposed to other types of medications, suggesting high financial returns as well as high failure rates; the cancer drug industry invested a disproportionate amount of time and money into the development of drugs that are often “redundant and only aimed for achieving marginal benefits.” This is likely because the development of these drugs was over-incentivized.
What does this mean for cancer patients? Prices of treatment could be high, depending on the drugs prescribed. And while there’s lots of activity in the field of oncological pharma research, it may not necessarily be moving in the direction we need it to: drug developers and researchers alike should focus more on diversifying the treatments they’re developing, and less on simply creating revenue for their companies. With people’s lives at stake, it’s essential to create a balance of revenue generation and patient care.