In a recent article (“Simply Obscene”) the influential German news magazine “Der Spiegel” (20/2010, May 17, 2010) stated the pharma industry was using “with the unscrupulousness of a stock jobber” a loophole in Germany’s highly regulated health care system to charge extremely high prices for basically useless cancer medications. In particular, the article featured Yondelis by Pharma Mar, Nexavar by Bayer, Hycamtin and Tyverb by GlaxoSmithKline, Erbitux by Merck KGaA, Sutent by Pfizer, Iressa by AstraZeneca, Avastin, Xeloda, Mab-Thera and Herceptin by Roche and Alimta by Lilly as examples for cancer drugs providing only marginal survival benefits at enormous costs and stated this was “lawful looting of the health care system”. The only exception according to the authors of the article was Novartis’ Gleevec.
This week, the Competence Network Malignant Lymphomas published an open “letter to the editor” (only available in German) stating that in the case of lymphoma therapy the authors of the article had done “obviously sloppy work”: “Therapy costs of lymphocyte-specific antibody Rituximab [MabThera] amount to €24,000, not €134,000 per year. Several independent studies have demonstrated that overall survival in both follicular and diffuse large B cell lymphoma is prolonged on average by several years (!), in fact without substantial side effects.” Der Spiegel had stated extension of survival in these two indications was “not proven”.
The letter also said that administrative costs for studies to optimize therapies had increased by a a factor of 10 in the last couple of years due to legal requirements.
The article of Spiegel magazine is available online in German, however without the tables featuring treatment costs and extension of survival for the drugs mentioned.