CBS, ABC Attack Companies on Cancer Drug Costs

     ABC and CBS evening newscasts attacked the pharmaceutical industry for expensive drugs for cancer treatment. Both the July 11 “World News Tonight” and “Evening News” left out dollar figures on drug industry research costs, and CBS even criticized the industry for “only” saving patients for up to another year.


     “In the last year, the cost of cancer drugs climbed 15 percent” compared to 3.3 percent for other drugs, CBS’s Trish Regan complained. Regan lamented that “drug companies are reaping the benefits” in strong profits.


     Regan read a brief excerpt from a drug industry statement while ABC’s John McKenzie pitted two doctors against each other on the issue.  McKenzie dismissed a Genentech (NYSE: DNA) scientist arguing “hundreds of millions of dollars” are spent on research and clinical trials by quickly turning to Memorial Sloan-Kettering oncologist Deborah Schrag who complained “that’s hyperbole. Their R&D budgets may be high, but they’re not that high.”


     Yet according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the average cost of developing one new prescription drug costs $800-million in research over 10-15 years while only three out of every 10 marketed drugs end up breaking even or turning a profit.


     While ABC anchor Kate Snow griped that “often the treatments that hold the most promise are the ones out of reach,” CBS relayed a more sober assessment of the costly drugs.


     “Some of the most expensive drugs may only extend the patient’s life a few months or a year,” CBS’s Regan noted during her story as she introduced a cancer specialist.


     “That’s really, I think, the crux of the problem. That for a modest improvement, there’s a huge increase in cost,” Dr. Leonard Saltz of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center told Regan.


     Nearly two years ago, organic chemist and pharmaceutical research veteran Dr. Derek Lowe responded to similar complaints by Dr. Schrag on the high cost of cancer drugs, writing that “none of us in the industry is trying to develop a hugely expensive drug that only prolongs survival by a couple of months.”


     “We're trying to hit home runs over here, but the pitching is too strong for us,” Lowe wrote in a July 25, 2004 blog post.