Miracle! Cure! Marvel! – NBC’s way of covering cancer drug costs

On the eve of the FDA’s Avastin announcement last night (and with no apparent reference to that important contextual point – although I acknowledge I didn’t see the entire newscast), the NBC Nightly News last night attempted to report on the problem some patients encounter in the face of an awful economy and astronomical cancer drug costs.

I didn’t see the newscast as it aired.

But this morning, a woman who is both a cancer survivor and an employee of the American Cancer Society sent me an email with the subject line, “Miracle! Cure! Marvel.”

She wrote:

“I came across a particular gem tonight while searching for coverage of the 6 month health reform provisions.

It’s a “miracle”. It “cures” cancer. It’s a “pharmaceutical marvel.” And it costs $5,000/month. Nowhere in this story about how the bad economy is making people have to choose between their life and their “life saving” drug, does the reporter address why on GOD’S GREEN EARTH any pill costs $5,000 a month! Oh but he does mention that the kind, kind pharmaceutical companies will help some people pay for it or find “some assistance”. Unless that “assistance” brings the cost down to $50 a month, I’m going to guess it’s still not enough.


[2017 Update: This video is no longer available]

Sometimes readers may think that I am too harsh in my criticism – especially of TV health news. But much of what I write about is inspired by what I hear from news consumers and health care consumers. It wasn’t just cooked up inside my head. The wisdom of the crowds – indeed, the wisdom of just one cancer survivor such as this woman – is often under-appreciated.

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Comments (4)

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September 25, 2010 at 12:11 am

In moderate defense of, not the coverage but the treatment, I believe the patent Novartis has on Gleevec expires this year, and at least one company had already received FDA approval to develop the generic. Why this is ignored in the story, I don’t know. Furthermore, all things being equal, back when Gleevec first hit the market, Novartis did make a global if sloppy and uneven effort (NYT, 5 June 2003, “Drug Maker’s Vow to Donate Cancer Medicine Falls Short”) to distribute the drug to people who couldn’t pay for it. The real sick aspect is that Novartis is now bringing Tasigna to the market for the same cancer, a molecule they’ve had for as long as they’ve had Gleevec, and naturally the head-to-heads suggest it’s ‘better’ than Gleevec. Gleevec is neither cure nor miracle, but for CML patients it’s a game changer and a pharmaceutical marvel compared to decades of hit and miss chemotherapy. Those at the ACS would know this.

Claire Smyth

November 7, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Thank you for being so common sense in your approach to your reporting. I especially highlight this – “why on GOD’S GREEN EARTH any pill costs $5,000 a month!”
I also agree that the wisdom of the crowds is the best thermometer, because they live the problems daily.
Keep up your great work