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New Drugs Cut 'Years' Lost to Cancer: Economist

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A Columbia University economist says he has evidence that new cancer drugs have an easy-to-measure impact on the burden of death and disability.

The economist, Frank Lichtenberg, came up with that evidence by counting the number of new drugs for 19 types of cancer that were approved in 36 countries from 1982 through 2010. Lichtenberg then correlated the cancer drug approval numbers with each country’s 2015 cancer-related “disability-adjusted life years.”

“Disability-adjusted life years” is a measure equal to the years of useful life lost in a region due both to disability and to premature death.

The new cancer drugs introduced from 2006 through 2010 seem to have cut the 36 countries’ disability-adjusted life years losses by about 23% in 2015, Lichtenberg estimates.

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The average cost of a non-disabled year of life saved was about $1,635 in the 36 countries for all patients, and $2,820 per non-disabled year of life saved before age 65, Lichtenberg says.

Lichtenberg does not give separate average cost estimates for the United States.

Lichtenberg defined cancer type by looking at a particular body site. He classified all types of cancer in the breast as breast cancer, for example.

He found that the average number of new drugs introduced per cancer site per country ranged from just 1.6, for thyroid cancer, to about 21, for breast cancer, with a median of about 4.5.

The average number of new cancer drugs for all 19 cancer sites per country ranged from 3.2, in Venezuela, up to 7.8, in the United States, with a median of about 6.

Lichtenberg has published the figures in a working paper, or preliminary version of his paper. The paper is behind a paywall on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research, here.

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