* 27 percent lack access to latest modern drugs - survey
* Many get palliative chemotherapy that doesn't extend life
By Ben Hirschler
COPENHAGEN, Oct 7 More than a quarter of
European patients with advanced melanoma lack access to new
treatments that could extend their lives, according to findings
presented at a major cancer conference on Friday.
In the last five years, novel medicines have revolutionised
prospects for people with metastatic melanoma, the most deadly
form of skin cancer.
But the high cost of the treatments, which can top $100,000
a year, means thousands still do not get the new drugs, a survey
Out of an estimated 19,250 metastatic melanoma patients
treated annually, 5,228 or 27 percent do not have access to new
drugs that are now recommended under European treatment
"This is especially the case for eastern and south-eastern
European countries, where a majority of patients are still
treated with palliative chemotherapy that does not prolong
overall survival," said Lidija Kandolf-Sekulovic, a professor of
dermatology at Serbia's Military Medical Academy.
New drugs including immunotherapies from the likes of Merck
& Co and Bristol-Myers Squibb, as well as
so-called BRAFi+MEKi combinations from Novartis and
Roche, can prolong overall survival to more than 18
months. In some cases, survival is now measured in many years.
But these medicines cost far more than conventional
chemotherapy, straining European healthcare budgets.
International experts are meeting this weekend in Copenhagen
for the annual European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO)
congress to discuss the latest drug trials and future cancer
The public health challenges in patient access to therapies
is a major theme of the meeting, as doctors grapple with the
implications of using a new generation of medicines.
"Doctors should treat patients with the best drug at the
best time ... it is not their role to decide about the cost,"
Solange Peters, head of medical oncology at Lausanne University
Hospital, Switzerland, told Reuters.
"But I do think we need more doctors going into politics to
try and inform this debate because it's going to be a big
problem for the next 20 years to come."
In the case of metastatic melanoma, the survey found that in
western Europe 70 percent of patients were treated with the
latest innovative medicines, while in eastern Europe less than
10 percent of patients got them.
Alexander Eniu, who chairs ESMO's global policy committee,
said it was "unacceptable" to see such inequalities in drug
availability and accessibility.