Every time a new drug comes out claiming to be the next cure for cancer, it’s best to take the news with a grain of salt. The truth is, we have not arrived at a panacea for cancer and we are probably still a long way off. According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide, with 14 million people diagnosed in 2012, and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths worldwide. However, progress is progress and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved a new drug, called Kisqali and developed by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, to treat an advanced type of metastatic breast cancer known as HR+/HER2- in postmenopausal women.
While post-mastectomy radiation therapy is often employed as a form of treatment, some researchers argue that it is used too often, sometimes unnecessarily, and wastes up to $164 million that could have been saved with shorter radiation courses. This new drug, which would need to be taken in combination with an aromatase inhibitor such as letrozole, is also not without its drawbacks- it has some dangerous potential side effects including abnormal heartbeat, liver problems, severe infections, nausea and fatigue. It also cannot be taken by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. So Kisqali is by no means perfect, but it does have some amazing potential for the treatment of late stage, metastatic breast cancer.
A study conducted with 668 late stage breast cancer patients found that Kisqali, taken in combination with letrozole, decreased the risk of metastasis by 44% over letrozole alone. Of the women studied, about 53% of the trial patients reported that tumor burden (the number of cancer cells in the body and size of the tumor) was reduced by at least 30%.
The new drug will cost a pretty penny, with a list price of $10,950 for the strongest (600 mg) dose, $8,760 for the 400 mg dose, and $4,380 for the lowest (200 mg) dose. However, Novartis does not wish to bar any patient from receiving this potentially life-saving treatment, so it will offer several forms of financial assistance, and based on one’s insurance, many will not have to make a copayment. Additionally, many patients will need to switch to the smaller dose, saving both patients and insurance companies money.
Kisqali may be in its early stages, and it’s never good to think of a new cancer treatment as a cure-all, but am I excited by these recent developments. Breast cancer is the second-most common type of cancer among American women. According to Investopedia, it is expected to affect more than 250,000 women in 2017. Any new drug that demonstrates the potential to treat the progression of this deadly disease is a step in the right direction in my books.