#Pharma Trash Talk Bites Hand That Feeds ASCO | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News | Scoop.it

In a sign of growing frustration with rising drug prices, a prominent cancer specialist on Sunday sharply criticized the costs of new cancer treatments in a high-profile speech at one of the largest annual medical meetings in the U.S.


“These drugs cost too much,” Leonard Saltz, chief of gastrointestinal oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said in a speech heard by thousands of doctors here for the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.


Dr. Saltz’s remarks focused mainly on an experimental melanoma treatment made byBristol-Myers Squibb Co., but he also criticized pricing more widely.


(Read the statistics he cited here: http://sco.lt/7YrrHt). 


Dr. Saltz’s speech was unusual because it was made at the meeting’s plenary session, where the field’s most significant scientific research is presented and which all meeting participants are expected to attend. An estimated 25,000 doctors and scientists attended this year’s meeting.

It is unprecedented for plenary speeches, which typically address scientific and medical issues, to substantially take on the topic of drug costs, said Alan Venook, a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco who planned the meeting’s scientific session and invited Dr. Saltz to speak.


The prominent venue for the speech was also unusual because, like many medical meetings, ASCO is sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and often focuses on highlighting advancements in drug development, said Dr. Venook. He said discussing drug prices there is “uncomfortable” because it could be seen as “biting the hand that feeds you.”

Doctors are also reluctant to antagonize the drug industry because they need pharmaceutical firms to invest in developing new medicines for patients, he said.


“It’s a tough balancing act for ASCO where the meeting is largely funded by pharma,” Dr. Venook said in an interview. “You can’t have a [plenary] talk trashing pharma, but you can have a talk by a respected person questioning it.”


“All of the stakeholders involved need to stop pretending that price is something we don’t need to discuss, because it affects all of us, and it’s affecting our ability to deliver quality care to everyone,” Dr. Saltz said in the interview. He said that one step toward controlling prices would be allowing Medicare to negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies, which it is currently barred by law from doing. He also called for changing the way Medicare pays for infused drugs. Doctors currently receive a percentage of the drug’s total sales price. The payment method has created a conflict of interest because cancer doctors can make more money by using the most expensive drugs, he said.