Affordable cancer treatments are few, lack research funding

Research is lacking on potential low-cost cancer treatments because the drugs involved won’t provide big profits for pharmaceutical companies, according to an April 23, 2014 ProPublica article.

The article describes the experience of Michael Retsky of Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), who underwent nontraditional treatment for colon cancer in the mid-1990s—low doses of a relatively inexpensive generic chemotherapy drug administered over a longer-than-usual period of time—and is now cancer-free. Retsky, a research associate in the Department of Environmental Health at HSPH and a breast cancer researcher, sought the nontraditional treatment at the time of his diagnosis. But a large-scale clinical trial on such treatment is a long shot, according to the article, because pharmaceutical companies focus on producing blockbuster cancer drugs that can reap huge profits.

The ProPublica article also detailed Retsky’s research into whether or not inflammation from surgery to remove a tumor can itself promote the spread of cancer, and whether having patients take NSAIDs prior to surgery, to reduce inflammation, might help limit tumor growth. Preliminary studies have suggested that a generic NSAID, ketorolac, might work in this regard, but Retsky acknowledged the difficulty of convincing pharmaceutical companies to fund a clinical trial on the drug because it would offer little in the way of profits.

Read the ProPublica article: MIA in the war on cancer: Where are the low-cost treatments?