Cancer spending up. Duh.

According to a new report by the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, spending on cancer therapies has doubled over the past 5 years. And the retail price tag on these drugs is up, too. The average retail price of the 2017 launches was over $150,000, compared to $79,000 for those launched in 2013. You know, when they were practically garage sale prices. But before we get our knickers in a twist, IQVIA reports the average annual out-of-pocket spend for someone with commercial health insurance was just $500. With 1.7 million cancer diagnoses and over 600,000 deaths in the US alone forecast for 2018, that doesn’t seem like such a bad deal.

You’re my boy blue

This week, researchers from MD Anderson reported “significant durable disease control seen in patients with lung and thyroid cancers harboring the RET oncogene.” This is great news for people with the RET alteration. RET is linked to half of all medullary thyroid cancers, 20% of papillary thyroid cancers and 1-2% of non-small cell lung cancers. The phase I study of the compound BLU-667 from Blueprint Medicines is being conducted with 84 patients. According to lead investigator Vivek Subbiah “the data show the precision targeted therapy with next-generation kinase inhibitors can have a powerful impact for patients with RET-driven cancers.” All this seems great, unless you own Blueprint stock, which dropped 9% on the news. Wall Street. Anyway, here’s hoping the drug will show continued durability and effectiveness. You’re my boy blue!

Trade wars don’t include cancer drugs

US stock markets have been roiling over a possible trade war between the world’s largest economies, the US and China. American President Donald Trump proposed nearly $50B in tariffs on Chinese goods, leading Chinese leaders to propose some of their own, but one product they’re not interested in taxing is foreign cancer drugs. China does have the world’s largest population of cancer patients after all. Drugmakers like Roche, Novartis and AZ should be pretty happy with the zero-tariff arrangement, while Chinese leadership hopes the move will push local pharma to improve their technological capabilities. Why can’t we go back to the good ol’ days when both the Chinese and Americans could ask “War, HUH, yeah, what is it good for?”

4. And this is why you go to school

AbbVie is now in a 5-year relationship with Johns Hopkins and Northwestern University. The goal?  Advancing oncology R&D. The pharmaceutical giant will work with each university independently, providing funding for preclinical research and access to AbbVie’s existing research. Of course, in the spirit of reciprocation, AbbVie can exclusively claim any new discoveries as its own. Therapeutic areas of research will include breast, lung, prostate, and colorectal cancers, among others. This is not the first time AbbVie has tapped the power of academic institutions. They entered a multi-million dollar oncology research collaboration with University of Chicago last April.  Arrangements like these have the potential to be a win-win-win for pharma, academia and patients alike. After all, sharing is caring.

4. A 21st century gold rush

The alchemists might have been aiming for something beyond wealth in attempting to turn base metals into gold. Recent research into the precious metal could lead to a new type of treatment for two of the deadliest cancers—i.e., pancreatic and ovarian—based on gold nanoparticles. Scientists already knew gold nanoparticles could be used to carry chemo drug molecules to tumors and to boost the effect of radiation on tumors, but new research shows that the gold nanoparticles interrupt cellular communication in the areas surrounding the pancreatic tumor. By butting in on the cell convo, the particles reduced cell proliferation and migration that usually occurs near these tumors. Added bonus—gold nanoparticles are not toxic to normal cells.

3. The Snapchat effect

Remember when Snapchat turned down Facebook’s $3B offer? Everyone thought it was crazy. Well, maybe not everyone. Apparently Medivation was taking notes. Their rejection of Sanofi’s $9.3B proposal now has it cashing in a fat $14B check from Pfizer. Sure $11 or $12B may have done the job, but $14B in cash ensured there wouldn’t be any counter-offers. What was at stake? Medivation’s promising oncology pipeline which includes its (very successful) prostate cancer drug, XTANDI, which generated ~$2.2B over the past four quarters and has the potential to more than double that. Maybe the lashing Pfizer received that caused the Allergan break-up has made it want to start shopping local, a.k.a. make the US Treasury Dept. happy again.

5. Watson graduates from med school

Jeopardy champ slash chess master slash oncologist? In several Asian countries, Watson, the often anthropomorphized computer, is taking in the characteristics of specific oncology patients and recommending specific courses of treatment. After consuming (we refuse to say “reading”) millions of pages of medical text books and journal articles, Watson now advises on effective courses of cancer treatment for real live patients. Not that Watson’s advice is necessarily followed by the oncologists on staff but apparently they often agree. Can you imagine the argument that follows a disagreement between those two massive egos? One is a robot-like being, forged through years of hard work in a lab and the other is… well… a computer. Yeah, we went there.

5. Copycats or cost controls?

Has risk reduction negatively impacted cancer drug developments? Dr. Richard Pazdur, head of the FDA’s office of oncology products, expressed this concern during the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting last week regarding the number of similar drugs in development, all focused on the PD-1 protein that cancerous tumors use to evade the immune system. While immunotherapy has shown promise even with the deadliest cancers, these therapies are currently priced in the $150k per year range, prompting not just “me-too” drugs, but me-too desires for the profits generated by these drugs. Many in the industry responded with the importance of PD-1 candidates for future combination therapies and the potential benefit to patients in the form of lower drug prices when there is competition in the marketplace.