In the fight against cancer, scientific breakthroughs are essential. But so are political decisions and the economic cost of treatment. This B·Debate included a round table discussing the problems that new therapies and resistance generate in terms of the healthcare system. The discussion was moderated by journalist Josep Corbella and featured various stakeholders from the administration, patients’ associations, industry and research.
According to Nieves Mijimolle, a member of the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC), “Patients live with the disease, but they also live in this world, and treatment has suffered with the recession.” Treatments are increasingly expensive, given their complex development and production process. According to Francesc Mitjans, a member of the CataloniaBio association of businesses, “Each cancer drug costs on average €1 billion.” Researcher Alberto Villanueva commented on that figure, among other things because it includes “the money spent on other drugs that didn’t work.” Villanueva was critical of part of the research done, mainly due to lack of industry interest, as much more research is being done into resistance to new drugs, although they are hardly used, “when we don’t yet know the resistance mechanisms to much older drugs, which are the ones being administered today” (and for which patents have already expired).
One of main criticisms of the current research system in Spain is that innovation hasn’t been developed sufficiently. For Victoria Ureña, deputy director general for Research on Cellular Therapy and Regenerative Medicine at the Institute of Health Carlos III, “In Spain research has always been heroic. And innovation is Kafkaesque.”
But beyond that problem, how do we make sure constantly rising drug prices don’t have a negative impact on patients? Both Nieves Mijimole and Gabriel Capellà, head of the Government of Catalonia Ministry of Health Innovation Program, believe that one way to improve would be the increasingly common results-based agreements, under which the hospital only pays the industry if the drug works. According to Francesc Mitjans, although “drug development is increasingly expensive, there is a possibility for dialog.”