Economy threat to life-saving meds affordability


The days are still tough for the patients in this economy and many people are struggling to keep up with the cost for their regular medication.  There could be several reasons, ability to afford a medical insurance due to job loss, loss in business and so on.  This is especially true for the medications that are very expensive like anti-cancer drugs.  Two doctors from the University of California, San Francisco; Robin K. Kelley and Alan P. Venook, wrote a letter “Nonadherence to Imatinib during an Economic Downturn” that was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Imatinib is a life-saving drug for rare stomach cancer (metastatic gastrointestinal stromal tumor), which costs $4,500 a month.  The doctors described that three patients were not able to buy their life-saving medication due to economic downturn.  All the three patients started imatinib in 2001 and were participants in the drug trial that led to the approval of imatinib for treating the tumor

The patients were showing great outcomes by use of imanitib, but were unable to continue the drug:

  • one patient had to stop taking the drugs because of decreased family income.
  • another patient became self-employed and had a preexisting condition, and could not pay for the medication.
  • third patient’s small business failed in 2008 and the person discontinued taking the drug as a result.

The bad news was that the inability to pay for medication resulted in tumor in 2009 for one the patients that required surgery.  None the less all three patients exhibited degradation...

in their condition.

Dr. Venook, professor of clinical medicine in the division of medical oncology, said that “Without the medication, patients would die of cancer.”

Dr. Venook acknowledged that two of the patients are back in remission.  Doctors and the drug maker, Novartis, worked together to get the patients back on their medication.

The main reason for writing this letter was to make other doctors aware of impact of economic condition on compliance to life-saving drugs and that they should regularly follow up with their patients. 

It is sad that the patents suffering from such deadly disease could not keep up with the medication.  Apart from the fact that patients economic conditions were affected, do you think that the health care system has such a huge burden on pharma companies and patients that the cost of medicine is so high.  Is there any way that pharma companies can reduce the cost of these medicines?  Are regulations and health care system adding significant cost to the medication or it is purely greed of the pharma companies?


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