Rx Minute: Cancer treatments have created nearly $2 trillion in societal value

Cancer treatments have created nearly $2 trillion in societal value

Cancer treatments have created nearly $2 trillion in societal value

A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research compares the investment in cancer R&D since the beginning of the war on cancer with the value of the increases in survival that resulted between 1988 and 2000 and found that the gains for society and patients have far outweighed the costs, generating 23 million additional life-years and $1.9 trillion in value to society overall.

Advances in treatment, rather than advances in detection, were primarily responsible for driving the value of survival gains. In fact, 97% of the total value of cancer gains is attributable to willingness to pay for treatment advances. The authors acknowledge that this may be surprising given that there have been significant advances in detection, but state that their “results suggest that the gains in treatment have been even larger.”

Drawing on data from SEER, the researchers found that life expectancy for cancer patients increased 3.9 years. In aggregate, patients have received “tremendous value” from these advances, with a total consumer surplus of about $1.9 trillion. The producer surplus was calculated to be $98-393 billion, based on sales and the range of profit margins for different types of companies. Combining the consumer surplus and the producer surplus, and subtracting out R&D spending, produces a total social surplus of $1.6 to 1.9 billion.

Approximately $300 billion has been spent on R&D since the early 1970s which means that private and federal investments have been fruitful. And “longevity increases far outweigh the costs of achieving them.”

Major advances in cancer medicines in 2009

A new report from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) highlighted 51 of the most significant findings of 2009, including 15 major advances that the authors believe “have the potential to lead to a reduction in mortality from cancer”. Among the 15 major advances, 12 related to new medicines, better ways to use existing medicines, or newly discovered benefits or approved medicines.

The following are several examples of the major advances included in the report:

  • The monoclonal antibody, trastuzumab, which is used to treat breast cancers that over express HER2 protein was shown to be the first targeted therapy effective against gastric cancer. Compared with chemotherapy, trantuzumab increased survival time by 26%.
  • Bevacizumab was approved to treat renal cell carcinoma (in combination with interferon) and glioblastoma, which are two of the most deadly forms of cancer. It was shown to nearly double progression-free survival for both types of tumor compared with existing treatments.
  • The HPV vaccine was shown to be 90.5% effective in women ages 24 to 45 years. Currently the vaccine is approved for women ages 9 to 26 years, but this new study shows that women who have not been exposed to the virus could benefit.

ASCO President, Douglas Blayney, MD, wrote that this report makes clear that “investment in clinical cancer research pays off,” citing an improvement in the mortality rate of 15% since 1990. However, a strong national response, including additional federal funding is important to ensure continued medical breakthroughs.

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