New Cancer Drugs Are Making an Impact

But they often cost $100K or more per year
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 2, 2019 1:00 PM CDT
New Cancer Drugs Are Making Lives Last
This undated photo provided by Roszell Mack, Jr. in May 2019 shows him at his office in Lexington, Ky. At the age of 87, he is able to work nearly fulltime at the horse farm nine years after being diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to his bones and lymph nodes.   (Courtesy Roszell Mack, Jr. via AP)

Newer drugs are substantially improving the chances of survival for some people with hard-to-treat forms of lung, breast, and prostate cancer, doctors reported at the world's largest cancer conference, the AP reports. Among those who have benefited is Roszell Mack Jr., who at age 87 is still able to work at a Lexington, Ky., horse farm, nine years after being diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to his bones and lymph nodes. "I go in every day, I'm the first one there," said Mack, who helped test Merck's Keytruda, a therapy that helps the immune system identify and fight cancer. "I'm feeling well and I have a good quality of life." The downside: Many of these drugs cost $100,000 or more a year. Some details:

  • Lung cancer: Immunotherapy drugs such as Keytruda have transformed the treatment of many types of cancer, but they're still fairly new and don't help most patients. The longest study yet of Keytruda in patients with advanced lung cancer found that 23% of those who got the drug as part of their initial therapy survived at least five years, whereas 16% of those who tried other treatments first did.
  • Breast cancer: In a study of 672 women with "hormone-positive, HER2-negative" cancers that had spread or were very advanced, adding the Novartis drug Kisqali to the usual hormone blockers as initial therapy helped more than hormone therapy alone. After 3 1/2 years, 70% of women on Kisqali were alive, compared to 46% of the rest.
  • Prostate: Two new drugs have proven able to extend survival when used like chemo or Zytiga in men who were getting usual hormone therapy and still being helped by it. The new drugs are Xtandi, sold by Pfizer and Astellas Pharma Inc., and the Janssen drug Erleada.

Read the full AP story for more. (Or read about a couple with cancer who were awarded $2 billion.)

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