Call to lengthen cancer drug patent to cut cost

Price of groundbreaking new cancer drugs could be reduced, says Dr Vishva Dixit

Dr Vishva Dixit: “Thanks to the new immunotherapies, we’re seeing patients today who should have been dead, but are still alive after seven years and counting”

Dr Vishva Dixit: “Thanks to the new immunotherapies, we’re seeing patients today who should have been dead, but are still alive after seven years and counting”

 

The cost of groundbreaking but hugely expensive new cancer drugs could be reduced by governments agreeing to lengthen the patents on them, a leading international authority on the disease has suggested.

Dr Vishva Dixit, speaking on a visit to Dublin, said the cost of potentially lifesaving treatments should not be an impediment to access but one way of reducing this cost was through legislative change, provided pharmaceutical companies agreed to lower prices as a quid pro quo.

Dr Dixit, who is responsible for major breakthroughs in our understanding of the immune system, said newly developed therapies represent the first “chink in the armour” in the fight against previously lethal cancers.

“It’s a crack in the door. Thanks to the new immunotherapies, we’re seeing patients today who should have been dead, but are still alive after seven years and counting.”

The problem, he said, was that these therapies were working on only a fraction of cases – at most, 30 per cent – but science was now “throwing the kitchen sink at it” and trying to extend their use.

One challenge was to identify biomarkers to identify the patients who will respond to therapies and remove the need to subject others to unnecessary treatment.

Scientists are also trying to understand what “brakes” are being applied in tumours to prevent the therapies working in the majority of patients who don’t respond.

Successful treatment did not equate to a cure for cancer, as patients would remain on therapy for the rest of their lives, he said.

The advances made in cancer research showed the benefits of university-led research and the need for government to fund it, he added.

“In military terms, we’ve secured the beach in relation to cancer, but now we need to get in there and secure the whole area.”

Incentives

A vice-president of discovery research at Genentech in San Francisco, and one of the most highly cited scientists in the world, Dr Dixit is in Dublin to receive the Dawson Prize in genetic at Trinity College Dublin on Tuesday.

The son of Indian doctor parents, he grew up in Kenya and was educated there and in the US.

He is also due to give a public lecture on “Cancer Therapy: Past, Present and Future” at the Trinity Biosciences Institute on Pearse Street at 6pm on Tuesday. Admission is free.