Rethinking Cancer: non-sexy, low-cost therapies

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Vikas Sukhatme, a Harvard Medical School professor, and his wife, Vidula, co-founded the nonprofit Global Cures to promote research of cost-effective cancer treatments. (Photo by Matthew Healey for ProPublica)

Increasingly, Big Pharma is betting on new blockbuster cancer drugs that cost billions to develop and can be sold for thousands of dollars a dose. In 2010, each of the top 10 cancer drugs topped more than $1 billion in sales, according to Campbell Alliance, a health-care consulting firm. A decade earlier, only two of them did. Left behind are low-cost alternatives — therapies like off-label medications, including generics — that have shown some merit but don’t have enough profit potential for drug companies to invest in researching them.

Read the free, in-depth, investigation in Think, Magazine, by ProPublica’s Jake Bernstein:

Cancer: Where Are The Low-Cost Treatments?

Excerpt:

Michael Retsky awoke from surgery to bad news. The tumor in his colon had spread to four of his lymph nodes and penetrated the bowel wall. When Retsky showed the pathology report to William Hrushesky, his treating oncologist, the doctor exclaimed, “Mamma mia.”

“Michael had a mean looking cancer,” Hrushesky remembers.

Retsky didn’t need anyone to tell him his prognosis. Although trained as a physicist, he had switched careers to cancer research in the early 1980s and spent more than a decade modeling the growth of breast cancer tumors. During his treatment, he joined the staff of one of the most prestigious cancer research labs in the country.

In the absence of chemotherapy, there was an 80 percent chance of relapse. Even with therapy, there was a 50 percent chance the cancer would return. The standard treatment was brutal. Six months of the highest dose of chemotherapy his body could withstand and, after that, nothing but hope.

 

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