NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 2, 2008

Billions of dollars are spent developing cancer drugs, but precious few get approved.  Is the Food and Drug Association (FDA) part of the problem, asks Catherine Arnst, a senior writer for BusinessWeek?

The U.S. government has spent more than $75 billion for oncology research since President Nixon declared his War on Cancer in 1971, and the pharmaceutical industry has spent even more.  Despite all this spending:

  • The death rate from cancer has only decreased about 7 percent in the past three decades, with much of the progress in the last few years.
  • Cancer continues to strike 1 in 3 Americans, and it kills 1 in 4.
  • This averages out to 1,500 deaths every day, at an annual cost to the nation of $210 billion and climbing.
  • Cancer is expected to become the nation's biggest killer within a decade, surpassing heart disease.

More and more researchers, companies, and patients blame the FDA for using outmoded and overly rigorous methods for evaluating a new generation of cancer treatments, rather that doing everything possible to provide sick patients with better drugs, says Arnst:

  • Since 2005, the FDA has approved only 18 new cancer drugs.
  • A Tufts University review found that a mere 8 percent of experimental cancer drugs end up receiving FDA approval.
  • In comparison, approximately 20 percent of medicines for all other diseases are approved.

Dr. David A. Kessler, a former director of the FDA, admits that it's always far easier to say not to a drug than yes, although there are times when the public interest requires that the agency step out of its role solely as a policeman and put into practice those things that might advance the public health.

Source: Catherine Arnst, "Cancer's Cruel Economics," BusinessWeek, June 2, 2008.

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