Opinion

Let’s Keep Progress on Cancer Moving

Just a few decades ago, cancer was considered a monolithic and largely untreatable disease. Patients faced a poor prognosis and limited treatment options. Since then, research has dramatically improved our understanding of cancer – which we now know is made up of more than 200 unique diseases – and important advances in our ability to treat and prevent it.

That’s why more people are surviving cancer than ever before. Today, two out of three patients live at least five years after their diagnosis. There are nearly 14.5 million survivors in the United States. Thanks in large part to earlier detection and better treatments, the nation’s cancer death rate has dropped 23 percent since peaking in 1991.

The sense of progress and optimism was palpable at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s recent annual meeting – the world’s biggest gathering of cancer doctors. Researchers presented on how novel waves of treatments may be able to further halt the spread of deadly cancers. Personalized cancer therapies took center stage, including a cellular type of immunotherapy known as CAR-T, which genetically modifies a patient’s own immune cells to fight their own cancer.

Today, more than 500 biopharmaceutical companies are working tirelessly to develop new cancer treatments, and the pipeline is the broadest and deepest it has been in recent history. But in order for those potential treatments to reach patients, we need practical, pro-consumer policies in place.

These include modernizing the drug discovery and development process, which will encourage the use of 21st century tools by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for drug evaluation, review and approval. Drug development tools such as biomarkers – a measure or physical sign that can be used to determine how a body is functioning – could open new areas of research, accelerate the development of innovative cancer treatments and enable advanced clinical trial designs.

Unfortunately, some new policy proposals take a less optimistic view, looking instead to slow or even stop this progress by stifling private innovation. The administration’s recently proposed Medicare Part B demonstration is one example. The proposal’s use of centralized value assessment, like the flawed framework developed by the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), is the wrong way to solve our nation’s health care cost problems.

To advance personalized cancer care, we need to support a value-driven health care system that is patient-centered and grounded in market competition, rather than the centralized approaches in the Part B proposal and ICER framework. Value-based arrangements between biopharmaceutical companies, health plans and providers are essential to such a system, as is increased sharing of information about products that are under development or which have been approved. Unfortunately, current rules impede open communication between insurance companies and biopharmaceutical companies about medicines that are on the horizon and limit the extent of innovative contracting. Similarly, once a medicine is available for patients, current rules prevent manufacturers from sharing important safety, value or efficacy information about a medicine when the information is not already included in its labeling.

Some emerging initiatives for assessing the value of treatments, such as work by the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research and theAmerican Society for Clinical Oncology, have the potential to be useful in the private market to support patient-centered health care. However, models, such as ICER’s value framework, do not keep pace with science and do not reflect the movement to patient-centered, value-driven health care.

We need to bring America’s best to the fight against cancer, and that does not include the implementation of flawed policies and value frameworks. PhRMA remains committed to working with every stakeholder to continue the march of American progress through market-based, patient-centered solutions for better health care value. America’s patients need, want and deserve nothing less.

Stephen Ubl is the chief executive officer of PhRMA.

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