How much are we prepared to pay for drugs that fight cancer?


farid-tabarkiTrendwatcher Farid Tabarki wants politicians to decide what norms should govern the availability of life-extending cancer drugs.

For sentient beings, people can be very illogical at times. I myself am a good example. For some months now I have been monitoring a stain on my ceiling.

It’s growing, although no drops have fallen as yet. But calling in someone to repair what is undoubtedly a leak is still a step too far.


The treatment for cancer, the fear of modern, aging man ( a third of us will get it in some form), is subject to a similar dilemma. In a way both could be considered first world problems: the fact that you have a roof over your head forces you to get to grips with it leaking, while the fact that you will probably reach a fairly advanced age forces you to take into account that you might get cancer. This in itself is good news, and it gets better.

According to René Bernards of the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital, individually adapted medication will be key in turning cancer into a chronic disease instead of a deadly one within 20 years. It will be expensive. But how deep is society prepared to dig to make it happen?

The committee which recommends changes to the basic health insurance policy raised the alarm the other week. It said Pertuzumab, a drug used for the treatment of breast cancer, is too expensive. Women may gain an extra 16 months of life but the costs are too high. The determining factor is price per quality-adjusted life year (QALY), or the time gained measured against quality of life.


Pertuzumab comes in at €150,000 per QALY, which is three times the norm in Great Britain. In the Netherlands there is no hard and fast cap on cost per QALY but a recent Dutch report speaks volumes: the Dutch see €50,000 per QALY as affordable.

While that would be too much to pay to get my roof fixed,  I feel my health is worth the price.

It’s time that political parties came up with a norm because that is something I would hate to leave to insurers or doctors, who, I’m sure, would rather not play arbiter themselves. Fortunately Dr Bernards is not sitting on his hands. He recently told television chat show De Wereld Draait Door he is going to manufacture cancer fighting drugs himself. I hope that means prices can come down!

This article was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad

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