Those spiralling costs of new drugs

It's not uncommon to hear people telling us that new drugs cost a lot per treatment. Therefore that drug development system is broken. The truth being that it's all rather more complex than that. Or even simpler. The drugs we're developing treat ever fewer numbers of people as we move down the list of problems to be solved. Thus the costs of the development need to be carried by ever fewer treatments. The cost per treatment is thus, whatever our financing system, going to be higher.

There is no way out of this, no way at all

The treatment called CAR-T therapy - has been hailed by scientists as one of the most significant breakthoughs in cancer for decades.

It works by taking a patient’s own white blood cells, and re-engineering them to fight cancer, , before re-injecting them into the body, where they multiply.

Some studies have found that up to nine in ten patients with little hope of survival went into remission after being given such therapy.

The deal struck between Novartis and the NHS is one of the fastest funding approvals in the history of the NHS, and comes 10 days since the drug was licensed for use in Europe.

The treatment would cost a patient around £280,000 privately....

£280k is a fair chunk of change in anyone's money. But why so much?

Around 30 children a year are expected to be given the CAR-T treatment

It's possible to argue - whether we include the opportunity costs of capital for example - but the development of a new drug through to approval costs some $800 million to $2 billion. The current funding system means that the developer has some 10 years after approval of patent protection to try and get that back. The fewer people the drug is given to the more each treatment will cost to try to recoup.

But note that this problem doesn't go away if we change the funding system. It still costs that $2 billion to develop a drug. The cost per treatment is therefore higher, to recoup that investment, however and whoever pays for the development. Even if it's all just tax funded the taxpayer is still spending $2 billion to treat 30 people a year (yes, obviously, the development is one once globally but still the logic stands).

The expense of new drugs is about the expense of developing new drugs. Changing who or how pays doesn't change that in the slightest.