Image from CBS 60 Minutes Video and website.

Are Cancer Doctors Blowing the Whistle on Pharmaceutical Sins?

Health Impact News Editor Comments

The CBS News program 60 Minutes aired an investigative report in 2014 on the scandalous practice of pharmaceutical companies’ actions with cancer drugs.

The report featured Dr. Leonard Saltz, chief of gastrointestinal oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering, one of the nation’s premier cancer centers. Dr. Saltz is a leading expert on colon cancer. Also appearing in the report was Dr. Peter Bach, also from Memorial Sloan Kettering.

The report begins by reminding us that more than one out of three Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime. Dr. Saltz then states that the price of cancer drugs has become a side effect of cancer, causing “financial toxicity,” which is actually a term starting to be used in the medical literature.

Saltz says: “We’re in a situation where a cancer diagnosis is one of the leading causes of personal bankruptcy. Individual patients are going into bankruptcy trying to deal with these prices.

He says that the average price for a single cancer drug is over $100,000.00 per year, and when you add the price of other drugs, it is easily a quarter of a million dollars per year or more.

I do worry that people’s fear and anxiety are being taken advantage of. And yes, it costs money to develop these drugs, but I do think the price is too high.

The interview then turns to a complaint Saltz made back in 2012 over a new cancer drug brought into the market by Sanofi, Zaltrap. Zaltrap came into the market to compete with an existing drug for colon cancer that already existed, Avastin.

Dr. Saltz claims that the new drug offered no benefits over the existing drug, yet cost $11,000.00 per month more. So, as head of the gastrointestinal oncology department at Sloan Kettering, he decided not to include the drug at their hospital, because it reportedly cost too much.

He and fellow doctor Peter Bach then wrote an opinion piece on how they felt the pharmaceutical company was taking advantage of patients by overcharging them for this drug, and it was published in the New York Times. The public pressure worked, and the company slashed their price in half.

Is this a clear case of doctors in the cancer industry developing a conscious and blowing the whistle on the system they earn their living from, and the powerful pharmaceutical industry?


But there might be another reason that was not explored by CBS News. The cancer drug criticized for inflating their price to take advantage of patients’ fear of cancer is Zaltrap, owned by French drug manufacturer Sanofi. The competing cancer drug that Dr. Saltz said was half the price and just as effective (“effective” defined here as extending the patient’s life for an average of 42 days) is Avastin, manufactured by American pharmaceutical company Genentech.

Is it possible that this new-found concern for high cancer drug prices and its effect on patients was simply an envious position for a foreign drug company’s product that had a higher profit margin? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that Dr. Leonard Saltz receives money from Genentech for colon cancer drug research:


From the International Journal of Cancer Research and Treatment. Source.

Does Dr. Saltz have other financial ties to the makers of Avastin, such as royalties or higher commissions?

Even if this hit piece on the French drug Zaltrap had mainly financial motives to protect the American drug Avastin, it does reveal some scandalous practices in the drug industry among pharmaceutical companies and the U.S. government.

Price Fixing to Inflate Drug Prices

Here are some facts about the unethical practice of the drug industry revealed in this report.

Medicare is required by law to pay whatever price the drug company charges for their products. They do not have to go out and get quotes from other companies or negotiate lower prices. This is due to a law passed a few years ago under the Bush administration.

From the interview:

Dr. Peter Bach: Medicare has to pay exactly what the drug company charges. Whatever that number is.

Lesley Stahl: Wait a minute, this is a law?

Dr. Peter Bach: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: And there’s no negotiating whatsoever with Medicare?

Dr. Peter Bach: No.

In addition to this price fixing allowed by law, doctors who prescribe the drugs make a commission on the drugs they prescribe:

Another reason drug prices are so expensive is that according to an independent study, the single biggest source of income for private practice oncologists is the commission they make from cancer drugs. They’re the ones who buy them wholesale from the pharmaceutical companies, and sell them retail to their patients. The mark-up for Medicare patients is guaranteed by law: the average in the case of Zaltrap was six percent.

Dr. Leonard Saltz: What that does is create a very substantial incentive to use a more expensive drug, because if you’re getting six percent of $10, that’s nothing. If you’re getting six percent of $10,000 that starts to add up. So now you have a real conflict of interest.

In the interview, Dr. Peter Bach lamented over the high co-pay on the new drug Zaltrap for Medicare patients. He explains their decision not to carry the drug at their hospital:

Dr. Peter Bach: We did it for one reason. Because we need to take into account the financial consequences of the decisions that we make for our patients. Patients in Medicare would pay more than $2,000 a month themselves, out-of-pocket, for Zaltrap. And that was the same as the typical income every month for a patient in Medicare.

Of course what is not mentioned, is the drug they are using, Avastin, costs about half the typical income every month of the average Medicare patient. So isn’t that just a slightly slower path to bankruptcy to extend a cancer patient’s life by 42 days?


Image from CBS 60 Minutes Video and website.

Watch the full interview on the CBS News Website here.

Can the Cancer Medical Industry be Fixed?

The real question is can the current cancer industry really be fixed? While this interview does expose some of the fraud and corruption in the cancer industry, it is still not dealing with the basic issues of how the industry needs sick cancer patients to survive, not cures.

As a result, any treatments for cancer outside of this lucrative pharmaceutical market is aggressively pursued by the FDA and squashed.

For more information on the cancer industry in America today, see:

The Cancer Industry is Too Prosperous to Allow a Cure

and for an excellent review of FDA unapproved but effective cancer cures see:

A Review of Alternative Cancer Therapies

You can also download both articles together as a free eBook on your mobile device below.

No drug that only extends your life for 42 days is worth going bankrupt over!

We Lost the War on Cancer – Review of Alternative Cancer Therapies

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We have lost the war on cancer. At the beginning of the last century, one person in twenty would get cancer. In the 1940s it was one out of every sixteen people. In the 1970s it was one person out of ten. Today one person out of three gets cancer in the course of their life.

The cancer industry is probably the most prosperous business in the United States. In 2014, there will be an estimated 1,665,540 new cancer cases diagnosed and 585,720 cancer deaths in the US. $6 billion of tax-payer funds are cycled through various federal agencies for cancer research, such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The NCI states that the medical costs of cancer care are $125 billion, with a projected 39 percent increase to $173 billion by 2020.

The simple fact is that the cancer industry employs too many people and produces too much income to allow a cure to be found. All of the current research on cancer drugs is based on the premise that the cancer market will grow, not shrink.

John Thomas explains to us why the current cancer industry prospers while treating cancer, but cannot afford to cure it in Part I. In Part II, he surveys the various alternative cancer therapies that have been proven effective, but that are not approved by the FDA.

Read We Lost the War on Cancer – Review of Alternative Cancer Therapies on your mobile device!

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Dr. Burzynski’s Cancer Cure the FDA Tried to Suppress

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