Why not discuss cost in news of new breast cancer drug approval?

Reuters reports: U.S. FDA approves Pfizer’s high profile breast cancer drug.

Language used:

  • potential new standard of care
  • one of the most promising medicines in Pfizer’s development pipeline
  • could generate annual sales of $3 billion by 2020

Discussion of the drug’s cost:

  • None

MedPage Today reports: Palbociclib doubled progression-free survival in a pivotal study

Language used:

  • It’s the first CDK-4/6 inhibitor to be OK’d in the U.S.
  • Palbociclib is marketed by Pfizer.

Discussion of the drug’s cost:

  • None

HealthDay & WebMD report:  FDA approves new breast cancer drug

Discussion of the drug’s cost:

  • None

US News & World Report – with another version of a HealthDay story – reports, using the drug’s brand name: 

Ibrance Approved to Treat Advanced Breast Cancer

Discussion of the drug’s cost:

  • None in this version either

Fortune reported: “In speed mode, FDA approves Pfizer’s big new drug early

Language used:

  • represents a big opportunity for the pharmaceutical firm
  • the drug could be Pfizer’s next major moneymaker

Discussion of the drug’s cost:

  • None 

The Wall Street Journal stood out for reporting:

Ibrance, which can be ordered through select specialty pharmacies, sells for $9,850 for a month’s supply before discounts.

The Associated Press had no trouble coming up with price estimates. They just asked the company:

Pfizer said it would price Ibrance at $9,850 a month, or $118,200 per year. The New York-based company said in a statement that price “is not the cost that most patients or payors pay.”

The company noted that most prescriptions are dispensed through health plans, which negotiate discounts for medicines or get government-mandated price concessions.

You can make this a story about speedy FDA approval.  You can make it a story about Pfizer’s fortune.  But, at its core, it’s difficult to defend not talking about cost/price if you have web-surfing readers in mind, which is how we found all of these stories.

In 9 years, after analyzing nearly 2,000 news stories about new stuff in health care, about 70% of such stories were judged by our team of reviewers to be unsatisfactory in discussing cost.

That doesn’t add up…or, rather, it does.

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Comments (1)

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Len Lichtenfeld MD MACP

February 9, 2015 at 4:21 pm

As a source who was quoted in the Fortune magazine article noted above, I want to share that I am “guilty as charged” for not having mentioned the drug’s price in the interview. As frequently happens, these events unfold rapidly. The question at hand was whether the drug represented a new treatment with benefit for women with breast cancer, and the answer to that question is “yes.” It was not until I read the WSJ article later in the day that I became aware of the drug’s cost and realized I hadn’t asked about or mentioned that information during my interview. So, the criticism is valid, and I accept responsility for that oversight in my comments to the reporter. Thanks for pointing out that the cost should have been part of the report.