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At ASCO15 meeting: Breakthrough melanoma treatment, Memorial Sloan Kettering oncologist slams cancer drug price tags (Morning Read)

Bristol-Myers Squibb revealed results of Phase 3 study of combined melanoma treatment that could be a cancer treatment breakthrough, but comes with a big price tag and side effects.


At the 2015 American Society of Clinical Oncologists annual meeting, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s combination treatment for malignant melanoma offered a cancer treatment breakthrough. The big pharma company presented the results of a Phase 3 study involving 945 patients. About 58 percent of those who received both Yervoy and Opdivo had significant reduction in tumor size. The company also showed that its treatment can prevent the skin cancer from worsening, but at a high cost and not without side effects.

 Yervoy-Opdivo combo was better at stopping melanoma from worsening than either Yervoy or Opdivo alone, extending the time that patients lived without their cancer advancing by seven months. But 85% of patients experienced side effects, including colitis, diarrhea, and rash. Fifty-five percent of them were severe, and 36% of patients stopped treatment as a result. Still, in a disease with few options, doctors are hailing the result – and raising questions about how to give a therapy that, in addition to its side effects, will cost at least $200,000 per patient.

But at the same conference, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Chief of Gastrointestinal Oncology Leonard Saltz slammed the high cost of drug treatments and singled out the estimated $295,000 per year price tag for Bristol-Myers Squibb’s drug combo. He noted that median monthly price for new cancer drugs in the U.S. more than doubled in inflation-adjusted dollars from $4,716 from 2000 through 2004 to about $9,900 from 2010 through 2014.

“Cancer-drug prices are not related to the value of the drug…Prices are based on what has come before and what the seller believes the market will bear.”


A brain cancer vaccine from Celldex extended the lifespan of some patients who experienced a recurrence of glioblastoma multiforme, according to the results of a Phase 2 study presented at ASCO.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to do a study this year
that will look at spousal communication tied to direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising.


Providers see reason for concern about worsening drug shortage. The number of drugs in short supply in the U.S. rose 74 percent compared with five years ago, with 265 drugs in short supply, according to the University of Utah’s Drug Information Service.

The Van Andel Institute, a biomedical research and education organization noted for its Parkinson’s disease research, is looking at a collaboration with ParkinsonNet. The program from the Nethlerlands takes a cross-discipline approach which includes 64 networks of professionals across occupational, speech and language and physical therapists, nursing home specialists and doctors that specialize in geriatrics and neurology.

Dutch health care concept, could make the region a leader in the care of those with the neurological disease that often affects the ability to walk and talk.

The American Medical Association will debate telemedicine this week and vote on policy created by the group’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs. It will advise doctors on patient privacy, diagnosis and follow-up care for virtual visits between doctors and patients among other issues.


Roughly 62 percent of health tech investors agreed that private digital health startups are overvalued.

Walgreens Boots Alliance global CIO Tim Theriault is resigning for personal reasons. Anthony Roberts, will step into the role. In addition to Walgreens, the company includes Duane Reade and Boots drugstores, and Alliance Healthcare, the largest advanced outpatient diagnostic imaging services. The group includes more than 13,000 stores and 350 pharmaceutical distribution centers.


Vermont has become the first state to get rid of philosophical exemptions to its vaccine requirement.  Governor Peter Shumlin released this statement after he signed the bill into law:

“Vaccines work and parents should get their kids vaccinated,” he said. “I know there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue. I wish the legislation passed three years ago had worked to sufficiently increase vaccination rates. However we’re not where we need to be to protect our kids from dangerous diseases, and I hope this legislation will have the effect of increasing vaccination rates.”


A woman doing a little computer recycling caused a stir when the computer she left off at a South Bay recycling center turned out to be a rare Apple I computer. The recycling company has started a hunt for the woman who dropped it off so she can be adequately compensated. The model was sold for $200,000.


Photo: Flickr user Bill David Brooks