February 26, 2013

The Feb. 24 op-ed “How to make drugs cheaper,” by Hagop Kantarjian, Tito Fojo and Leonard Zwelling, unduly minimized the critical role of new medicines in making progress to help cancer patients and undervalued the complex research process that achieves this progress.

Today, patients diagnosed with cancer live three years longer than they did in 1980, and researchers estimate that new cancer treatments are responsible for 83 percent of this gain. Like other areas of science, progress is a step-by-step process that builds upon each new discovery. Moreover, cancer treatment evolves rapidly and the full value of new treatments is recognized over time.

The authors’ proposals would harm patient access to treatment options, interfere with patient-physician decision-making and set back biomedical progress.

The authors also misrepresented patent settlements, which can benefit patients by bringing generics to market before the patents for brand-name medication expire.

Centralized price controls in Medicare and one-size-fits-all standards for cost-effectiveness would cut progress short and keep patients from beneficial new cancer treatments at a time when the scientific opportunities to beat cancer are brighter than ever.

John J. Castellani, Washington

The writer is president and chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

In their reliance on Aristotle, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas to urge that price must reflect worth, Hagop Kantarjian, Tito Fojo and Leonard Zwelling are strangely silent as to the not-insignificant role of their medical colleagues, who, they tell us, are prescribing bankruptcy-inducing drugs that do little to improve survival rates. Rather than point fingers just at pharmaceutical companies, market forces, regulators and drug investigators, they might also remind health-care providers to heal themselves. Why, I must ask, would an ethical oncologist prescribe incredibly expensive drugs with little value to a patient and that patient’s family?

James F. McKeown, Falls Church