Cyramza for Stomach Cancer: Much ado about very little

May 11, 2014

The FDA recently approved the drug Cyramza for the treatment of metastatic stomach cancer. Cyramza is in the class of drugs known as angiogenesis inhibitors. These drugs inhibit the growth of blood vessels, and since cancer cells need a regular supply of blood to grow they thought is that blocking new vessels will stop their growth.


FDA approval is a big deal. Not only does it imply that the approved drug has been found safe and effective, but it also means that Medicare has to cover the cost of the drug, regardless of how high it is priced. It's easy to see why FDA approval is a windfall for the drug companies that get develop those drugs.


Cyramza was developed by Ely Lilly. What is the price tag for the drug? Lilly is not giving that information out, which is not a good sign. When a reporter asked, the canned answer from Lilly was that they are "committed to offering patient assistance programs for eligible patients receiving Cyramza treatment."I think that is code for "not cheap."


There is speculation by industry insiders on Twitter regarding the expected cost. One analyist estimates an annual cost of about $100,000. At such a cost, it must be a very promising therapy, wouldn't one think?


The study that led to approval of the drug involved 355 patients with advanced stomach cancer, two thirds of them getting the drug and one third getting a placebo. Those who got the drug had their average overall survival extended from 3.8 months to 5.2 months. 


Yes, you read that correctly. It's a drug that could cost upwards of $100,000/year, will very likely bankrupt some desperate cancer patients, has been evaluated in a total of 355 patients, and actually extends patients' lives by less than 6 weeks. It can now be recommended to some significant number of the 22,000 people diagnosed with stomach cancer each year.


And Medicare, by law, will have to cover the cost of this drug now that it has FDA approval.


I'm not belittling 5 additional weeks of survival, or trying to put a dollar value on those weeks. But this drug is certainly not without side effects. We can only hope that oncologists are being clear and honest about both the average 5 extra weeks of life and the side effects those weeks will likely endure.


This is hardly progress. This is business. If you want to know more about how I work with gastric cancer and how patients have responded, please contact our office. I'm happy to set up a free consultation. 503-719-4806 or

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