Rethinking Healthcare

A cancer cure health reform may delay

A cancer cure health reform may delay

Posting in Cancer

Experiments are great, and sometimes being a guinea pig pays off. But new treatments will go first to those who can afford the expense and risk of failure, only later to the rest of us.

There may be a big breakthrough in cancer therapy coming.

A study published in Nature, from a team headed by CalTech chemical engineering professor Mark Davis (right), proves a method for RNA Interference, using tiny bits of RNA injected into the blood, which interfered with the reproduction of tumor cells.

There is tremendous excitement over "game-changing" therapies for cancer, Parkinson's, and chronic pain.

As always there is also a compelling back story.

Davis began his work after watching his wife nearly die from breast cancer treatments. The work he has just done on humans replicates research that won Andrew Fire and Craig Mello the 2006 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

The work was done by a CalTech corporate spin-off, Calando Pharmaceuticals, owned by Arrowhead Research, and shares in Arrowhead jumped on the news.

But the path from discovery to market gets longer under health reform.

As The Scientist notes, the study did not prove the therapy was controlling the cancer. Killing some cancer cells with a novel treatment does not effect a cure. You have to get them all.

Not only that but in most countries, and the U.S. under health reform will gradually become like most countries, you will not only have to prove a therapy works, but that it's cost-effective compared to other treatments., before it goes into general use.

This is a big hurdle many drugs and devices find hard to jump in Europe. It's why the U.S. is the leader in developing new therapies.

Failing to prove comparative effectiveness, new treatments can be used only on patients willing to pay cash. There will be sick rich people looking to this therapy when it's ready, in about five years. But don't expect insurance or Medicare to cover it until it proves it's cost effective.

Experiments are great, and sometimes being a guinea pig pays off. But new treatments will go first to those who can afford the expense and risk of failure, only later to the rest of us.

That's just the way it has to be. The days of bankrupting the many in the name of curing a few are over.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure