Cancer Drugs Too Expensive to Afford

ABC News
Beyond The Headline

If her pill bottle goes empty, Patsy Thomson fears she will die. A 65 year old working mother of seven adopted children -- she's fighting Leukemia, now in remission.

The drug, Sprycel, is keeping her alive, only it costs at least $106,000 a year. Even with Medicare payments it would cost her about $10,000 a year out of pocket, which she can’t afford and she's not alone.

Cancer drug prices have doubled in the past decade. Eleven of the twelve drugs approved for fighting cancer in 2012 were priced over $100,000 per year, that's double the average family income.

Thousands of cancer patients, even many with insurance, face the same dire decision: go bankrupt or die.

Dr. Hagop Kantarjian is leading a protest by more than 100 cancer specialists demanding pharmaceutical companies lower their drug prices.

Pharmaceutical companies say it costs on average more than one billion dollars to research a new drug, but critics put the costs below $90 million.

In the us, Sprycel, and top tier cancer drugs like it, costs twice as much as it does in parts of Europe, China, Canada and the UK, places where the government sets a limit on pricing.

Bristol-Myers Squibb, who manufacture Patsy’s medication, said in a statement to ABC News, "we take great care to price our medicines based on the cost to develop them, for Sprycel, we have robust patient assistance programs in place."

Still nearly one in five cancer patients can't afford their medication, Patsy among them. She applied to that, "reimbursement support program," but was denied. She’s down to 30 pills and little hope.