Malaria has a new foe, but it might need some more prep time to start working towards humanity’s (or at least the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s) ultimate goal of malaria eradication. The new drug, Tafenoquine, is approved and ready to start fighting infections, but it has the unfortunate side effect of making red blood cells burst in some patients. Cells dying, you might have guessed, doesn’t lead to great patient outcomes. There is a test that can identify vulnerable patients, but it requires expensive and difficult to use machinery which may not be present in outbreak regions. Never fear though, researchers are already working on creating a more economically and technically feasible testing method that they’re confident will be ready when endemic countries roll out the drug.
Pfizer announced price increases on about 40 drugs at the beginning of July. But after discussions with President Donald Trump and Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, they’ve decided to cut-it-out. Trump had lambasted drug companies earlier in the week for price increases, noting that other markets like Europe get lower prices. After their meeting, Pfizer decided to roll-back the increases to pre-July figures, “to give the president an opportunity to work on his blueprint to strengthen the healthcare system and provide more access for patients.” And they’re leaving the price drops announced at the beginning of the month intact. The hikes aren’t completely gone though, Pfizer’s just holding off until 2019 or until that aforementioned blueprint takes effect. For a (pink) blueprint you don’t have to wait for, click here.
What is “it,” you ask? Spark Therapeutics’ new gene therapy Luxturna which can cure blindness in a single treatment. The condition causing the blindness only affects a few thousand people, so the FDA has designated it as an orphan drug. The single dose and orphan drug aspects of this gene therapy combine for a rather expensive R&D bill, and translate into a bit of sticker shock at the selling price: $425,000 per eye. Spark is trying out some interesting commercialization practices to get the drug to patients, like giving rebates to patients whose eyes don’t see better over time. They’re also considering selling the therapy directly to insurance companies so that health care providers don’t have to pay and store the treatment without a guarantee it’ll ever be used.
There’s some debate as to whether cancer patients should have drugs that are proven to work, or whether instead they should have access to as many drugs as possible that might work. At least that’s what we’ve gathered from a recent study identifying that more than half of cancer drugs approved by the EMA between 2009 and 2013 showed no benefits for either survival or quality of life. While that’s not extremely terrible considering, 1) the EMA focuses on timely patient access to new drugs and, 2) trials focusing on survival outcomes are expensive and (more importantly) time-consuming, one has to wonder if we can’t do better than half. Otherwise we’re just provoking cancer patients to the point of rampage.