A High Price for Rare Cancer Drugs

Merrill Goozner

First posted 8/30/11 on Gooz News

Pfizer last week won Food and Drug Administration “accelerated approval” for Xalkori (crizotinib) for a rare form of metastatic lung cancer that strikes about 3 percent of people — almost always non-smokers — who come down with the disease. That’s about 10,000 patients per year in the U.S., and perhaps a similar number abroad. Multiply that times the $$115,200 a year the company plans to charge for Xalkori, and they’ve got themselves a billion dollar blockbuster.

What does it mean when a drug earns “accelerated approval”? Unfortunately, too many people think this means that it worked so well that the FDA rushed it to market. That’s not how it works. Accelerated approval, which really should be called interim approval, is reserved for drugs that show promise for treating life-threatening diseases like lung cancer, which is the best way to describe Xalkori.

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