Does More Equal Better With Cancer Drugs?

The pharmaceutical industry is facing a coarse couple of years. The ‘patent-expiration cliff’ slated for 2012-2013, in which lucrative brand-name drugs will lose exclusiveness and face less expensive generics. To offset the losses they are expecting, many pharmaceuticals attempting to find profits have turned to oncology and creating cancer drugs.

This will sound like excellent news. But current motivations and market conditions may actually work to the detriment of pharmaceuticals and patients alike. Today, with cancer the following promising revenue source, a really well known New York-based chemical company employs one thousand analysts developing cancer treatments, spends 20 percent of its $7-billion-plus research and development budget on cancer, and has roughly twenty-two cancer drugs in controlled trials.

Pharmaceutical companies are pouring billions of greenbacks into developing cancer drugs. Latest systematic discoveries allowing for new targets in cancer research have generated about 860 drugs in trials — much more than for any other infirmities, including heart problems and stroke. Some critics call the excess a ‘cancer bubble.’

Still, with hundreds of new potentials and billions of greenbacks poured into cancer research, a cure should be approaching, right? Unfortunately, few drugs have made it to the market — only one this year. And many of those drugs aren’t revolutionary treatments, but medicines that extend life by days or months — or, in some cases, that simply stabilise the patient, and at a very high cost.

One difficulty is that while these drug firms can choose from many targets to attack, they cannot define which would be most beneficial. Even when one anomaly is targeted successfully, the carcinoma usually creates other anomalies, and permutations and complications so enormous that finding the right combo for a given patient’s physiology is almost impossible.

Then there’s the issue of financial interest. Insurance corporations and regimes tend to shell out the sums needed for cancer care with relative ease, so drug corporations find they can charge high costs for drugs that barely work, on the off-chance a given drug might save a life. Are drug companies actually attempting to find a cure? Or are they just satisfied with developing less dramatic treatments that fill their coffers? They may not have the inducement required to develop cures or hugely improved treatments, when they can make enough money creating stopgap drugs.

Naturally, pharma executives reject such a cold hearted conclusion. They’d gladly make better drugs that would offer bigger gains, they say. But this is likely tempered by the companies’ and shareholders’ wants.

The prevailing ‘cancer bubble,’ with so many rivals, so many drugs, and not enough room in the marketplace for all, begs the issue of whether today’s big investments in cancer drugs will ever bear fruit, or if some companies and their investors will get burned. One drug company aims for $11 bill in cancer-drug sales by 2018, more than quadrupling last year’s sales in the whole category.