The Cancer Doctor Who Wants To Kill New Cancer Drugs

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  • 02/24/2015
Hagap Kantarjian wants lower drug prices and he's willing to let people die to get them. 

In a conversation with Ed Silverman who runs Pharmalot, Kantarjian noted he is launching a online crusade to get 1 million people to support  his plan to lower cancer drug prices.  

Here's the 5 point plan he shared with Ed:

"First, allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Two, allow the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute [which was created as part of the Affordable Care Act to assess treatments] to put the prices of drugs in their evaluations of benefits. Three, allow importation of drugs across borders. Prices in Canada are half of what they are in the U.S., so insurance companies would save money, patients would save on out-of-pocket costs and drug companies would make money because the patient who can’t afford the drug here would then make a purchase. Fourth, we should prevent drug companies from making deals to protect patents, like pay for delay, and prevent patent evergreening [which allegedly involves tweaking a patent to extend its life]. And fifth, we should encourage organizations that represent patients with cancer to develop treatment pathways that incorporate drug prices – what they call drug value or treatment value.

If we put these in place, it will allow market forces to work in a more favorable way."

In fact, under Obamacare, health plans are already doing much of what Kantarjian desires.  Recently HHS issued a final rule on drug coverage to address "benefit designs that we believe would discourage enrollment by individuals based on age or based on health conditions, in effect making those plan designs discriminatory, thus violating this prohibition. " The final rule goes on to cite “placing most or all drugs that
treat a specific condition on the highest cost tiers” as an example of discrimination." 

A review of these plans found that many patients have no affordable or low cost options. “Even if they are willing to switch drugs, many of the drugs have a high coinsurance cost…”

It should be noted that this redlining of sick people is based on the evaluation of drug prices and the pathways Kantarjian endorses.  PBMs say they are cutting drug prices but in fact they are just extorting rebates from innovator companies and pocketing the cash.  But I guess that's ok too as long as the drug companies are screwed to Kantarjian's satisfaction.  

Not suprsingly,  AHIP is claiming it wouldn't have to ration drugs if the prices weren't so damn high.  That's what Kantarjian claims too.   

That's just a lie, which since it is repeated often enough, passes as fact in Beltway discourse.  

In fact,  innovative cancer medicines represent 0.6% of total healthcare spend.  If every new medicine prevented or controlled disease, theeby eliminating hospitalization and physician visits and increasing healthy life span, spending three times what we currently spend on drugs would be a great bargain.   More immediately, a Milliman study has shown it would cost health plans less than $1 a month per health plan member to cover the cost of new oral cancer drugs.   

So what if we acheived Kantarjian's dream, not allowing any new cancer drug to the market until it the price was cut in half and stayed there.  America would save a grand total of $15 billion a year out of the $2.8 trillion spent on health care.  That's about 50 cents a day per cancer survivor.  That's something close to what the United Kingdom and Canada do with regard to prices.  

The UK, despite spending about the same amount on cancer drugs as the US, has the worst 5 year survival rates and mortality rates for many cancers.   The same with Canada.  Mortality from cancer is declining and has been declining more quickly here.  The reason?  Faster access to new medicines.   Just the time it takes to review new medicines is deadly.  A Frasier Institute report concludes that delaying access to just five new cancer drugs to get the price down cost the total federal and estimated would cost 1696 life years with estimated value of extended survival of between between $339.2 and $559.6 million.   There are many other studies confirming the connection between the Kantarjian cure for drug prices, increased health care spending and more people dying sooner. 

Kantarjian's silence on this disparity exposes him as nothing more than a second rate publicity hound.    (Similarly,  Kantarjian has said nothing about the fact that MD Anderson, where he works, increased what it charged for cancer surgery by 400 percent or marks up the price of cancer drugs discounted for the poor by 700 percent.   )

He and other critics of drug prices fail to support policies that reduce the time and cost of bringing new medicines to market and refuse to discuss ways to change how new therapies are paid for.  Amortizing the cost of a medicine over a period of years and providing patients and providers 'upgrades' as new technologies emerge would help frame the value of innovation.  

But these are serious proposals.  Kantarjian is not serious.  He is a demagogue who distorts the facts, ducks debates and hides the truth.  


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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