Article posted Thursday, March 6, 2014 10:32am

Drugs that greatly enhance the immune system’s response to cancer cells may be the wave of the future in treating malignancies – if we can afford them. Some of these drugs, such as ipilimumab (marketed as “Yervoy”), are already in use and can bring about remission of some cancers for years. The downside to these drugs is the cost. For example, Yervoy costs about $23,000 a month in the U.S.

One of the most effective ways of using such drugs is to combine them with typical chemotherapy and/or radiation. Unfortunately, the cost of these procedures is increasing rapidly (radiation therapy is increasing about 25 percent a year). Drug companies attribute the high cost of the new drugs to costly research and development, the high failure rate for variants leading up to the final formulation of the drug, and the small market. Nevertheless, pharmaceutical companies continue to seek magic bullets for treatment of cancer, of which there are many types. (Nature, May 30, 2013)