"" Ralph Moss—Cancer Consultant: 2016-01-31

Monday, February 1, 2016

THE CANCER INDUSTRY, REVISITED

In 1980, I published my first book, The Cancer Industry. It went through many editions and led to my appearance on "60 Minutes," among many other TV and radio shows. Thirty-five years ago it was a radical thesis that "Big Pharma" was milking the cancer field for super profits, and was actually retarding progress in many cases by making potentially useful treatments conform to their need for super-profits. I think recent events (such as the gross overpricing of new cancer drugs) have amply vindicated my point of view.

There are several components to the question of "Big Pharma's" impact on cancer. I will briefly address (a) how much cancer costs society and (b) how much is spent specifically on cancer drugs.

In the US today, cancer is said to inflict an economic cost of around $895 billion annually. This is more than heart disease ($753 billion) and far more than #3 traffic accidents and #4 diabetes (each of which costs society around $204 billion). Cancer is also a major source of lost life and productivity and of course an incalculable "cost" in misery, heartache and loss. In 2008, Americans lost 83 million years of healthy life because of cancer, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR). New cancer drugs now typically cost $10,000 per month per patient, or around $120,000 per year per patient. Depending on one's insurance, or lack thereof, one can wind up paying individually for much of this cost.

In 2015 the worldwide market for cancer drugs topped $100 billion in sales, according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. IHI further states that this figure could reach $147 billion by year the 2018.

Needless to say, it is the consumer (and/or taxpayer) who bears the brunt of these unacceptable expenses. The US pays far more for prescription drugs than other countries because the government is forbidden from fully negotiating the lowest price with the drug companies, as is done in other countries. I believe this can be traced back to the lobbying efforts of "Big Pharma," including the "revolving door" between the the drug company and government agencies. 

Who are the main players behind the rise in the cost of cancer care?

The cancer marketplace functions because of the simultaneous input of many players: patients (of course!), physicians (especially oncologists), politicians seeking approval for endorsing popular “war on cancer” positions, wealthy fund-raising charities, research scientists, and regulators (such as the Food and Drug Administration). However, I would argue that the principal players are the largest multi-national pharmaceutical companies—so-called “Big Pharma.” These include Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche, etc. While regulators may try to rein in the costs, according to the well-known Web site www.fiercepharma.com, “drugmakers won't be deterred by pressure from payers, doctors, or anyone else. The payoff is too promising for that. And when a market approaches $100 billion, even 5% growth is worth billions.”

Sunday, January 31, 2016

MOST PROMISING CANCER RESEARCH



I was recently asked if real progress was being made in finding a "cure" for cancer. Sure, I said, thousands of people are working hard to find better treatments, even cures. Important advances are being made in the field of cancer immunotherapy, with the development of so-called immune checkpoint inhibitors such as ipilimumab (Yervoy®), pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) and nivolumab (Opdivo®).

The problem is that almost invariably scientific advances must also be highly profitable in order to clear the hurdles of the FDA. This severely limits the number of drugs that can come to market, since unpatentable, out-of-patent, natural or generic medications are automatically ruled out by the demands of the marketplace. This issue, by the way, is almost entirely lacking from discussions of the pace of improvement in cancer treatment.

I was also asked what was the most promising new development.

There is no single most effective remedy for cancer, as the number of possible permutations of cancer is almost limitless. This is the rationale for personalized treatment. However, what I am most excited about now is the work of D. James Morré, PhD and Dorothy Morré, PhD, of Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. James Morré was founding director of the Purdue Cancer Center. He has published 400 PubMed-indexed scientific articles. He and his wife discovered (among other things) the role of ENOX2 proteins in allowing the enlargement of cancer cells. Unless a cell enlarges to normal size it self-destructs within 3 to 4 days in a process called “programmed cell death” or apoptosis. This knowledge has resulted in a remarkable test for 25 kinds of cancer called ONCOblot.

The Morrés also discovered a variety of agents, natural and synthetic, that will block the action of ENOX2. The most important of these is a combination of green tea extract and red pepper called CAPSOL-T. In a clinical trial, it was found that 94% of those who were positive for ENOX2 became negative after 4 months of this treatment. These are huge claims and require extensive scientific testing at many institutions, not just Purdue. But I see no flaws in the Morrés research or reasoning process.