The Price of Life

scientist filling beakers with gold coloured liquid

I’m not a conspiracy theorist about a cure for cancer. I don’t believe the government or big pharma are keeping it from us to force us to feed the beast by buying expensive drugs. But I do believe that big pharma is mostly a disgusting greed machine that pumps out important innovations and then holds us hostage to the cost. I’ll give you an example.

Immunotherapy is proving to be the closest thing we have to a cure for some cancers. Especially for patients with bladder, melanoma and lung cancer, this method of boosting the person’s own immune system is literally a game-changer. The drug acts as a “checkpoint inhibitor”; it turns on the body’s own cancer-fighting system. In many cases it’s boosting survival rates dramatically.

But here’s the problem.

In order to receive the benefits of this breakthrough, a patient has to come up with around $100,000. OHIP doesn’t cover it as a rule, but it will in some cases where it sees the best potential for benefit. In other words, the government – the provincial government – decides who lives or dies.

Companies such as Roche that makes the immunotherapy drug Tecentriq, charge anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 per dose. Pills cost pennies or a few dollars to manufacture. Roche, Bristol-Myers Squibb and the other companies making immunotherapy medications say their prices also reflect the cost of research and development. What they fail to disclose is their greed. Medical experts agree there is no reason for these drugs to cost so much beyond the manufacturers wanting to squeeze those who are desperate.

Because of previous health issues, I’m on a medication that would normally be considered expensive, but nothing compared to those listed above. The manufacturer gave me a card that covers a percentage of what insurance coverage doesn’t pay. Now that I don’t have any insurance, I appreciate the discount even more. But they only do it because a generic version of their drug is available and they want to keep patients on the real thing. It takes about twenty years or more before a generic drug comes to market. Even so, a $10,000 dose of a drug isn’t likely to become a lot more affordable. And the patients waiting now are simply out of luck.

Kudos to scientists working on ways to cure people or allow them to live longer with cancer. But shame on the greed of executives and their inhumane treatment of human beings with plans, families and a desire to live. “We’ll dangle this miracle over your head, but never let you catch it.”

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