Saturday, November 18, 2017

New chemotherapy plan echoes AIDS deal

2 major drug manufacturers slash prices to help fight cancer in six poor African countries

In a deal similar to the one that turned the tide against AIDS, manufacturers and charities will make chemotherapy drugs available at steep discounts, according to a recent story by Donald G. McNeil Jr. in The New York Times.

Two major pharmaceutical companies —  Pfizer and Cipla, based respectively in New York and Mumbai— are working with the American Cancer Society to make it happen, the story indicates. 

They've apparently agreed to charge "rock-bottom prices for 16 common chemotherapy drugs," McNeil's piece says — "just above…manufacturing costs."

As an add-on, top American oncologists plan to "simplify complex cancer-treatment guidelines for under-equipped African hospitals, and a corps of IBM programmers will build those guidelines into an online tool available to any oncologist with an internet connection," the story continues.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci

The piece also quotes Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that "this gave me goose bumps. I think this is a phenomenal idea, and I think it has a good chance of working."

Fauci said it reminded him "of his work in 2002 helping design the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief" — a plan that's been successful (24 million Africans are currently on HIV drugs).

Cancer, the story says, "now kills about 450,000 Africans a year. By 2030, it will kill almost 1 million annually, the World Health Organization predicts." 

Most common African cancers, it continues, "are the most treatable, including breast, cervical and prostate tumors."

But in contrast to the United States, where 90 percent of women with breast cancer survive at least five years, in Uganda, "only 46 percent do; in Gambia, a mere 12 percent,"  McNeil's story asserts.

One major African problem is that there are few cancer specialists. 

For example, in Ethiopia, one of the six countries that will be covered by the new agreement, there are "only four oncologists for its 100 million citizens," according to the Times piece. "Nigeria has about 40 for its population for 186 million."

Uganda has only 16 oncologists "and its only radiotherapy machine…has been broken for over a year. Before its 21-year-old gears gave out, the machine's cobalt source had become so week that irradiation sessions meant to last minutes took an hour."

Caution about how well the program will work is being urged.

According to McNeil's story, "even with cheaper drugs, progress against cancer in Africa will be slower than it was against AIDS, all parties to the deal warned" — partially because cancer "comprises an entire family of diseases," unlike AIDS, which "is caused by a single pathogen that can be suppressed, albeit not cured, with a daily three-drug pill."

More information on cancer drugs and treatments can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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