The latest in a string of high-priced cancer-fighting treatments is Dendreon Corp.'s Provenge, approved in the United States in April for men with terminal prostate cancer. Whether Medicare will cover the $93,000 one-time therapy could be decided at a meeting on Nov. 17.
Provenge, which extends patients' lives by four months on average, and other pricey new cancer drugs have ignited controversy about whether their cost is worth the benefit. The first so-called "cancer vaccine," Provenge is individually designed using the patient's own cells in order to trick the immune system into fighting the tumors.
Given the aging population of men at risk of developing prostate cancer and changes in private insurance plans under the new U.S. health care law, the burden to taxpayers could be huge, some observers say.
But researchers say Provenge and similar treatments on the horizon could revolutionize cancer care, according to the Associated Press. Calling for a "national investment," Dr. Christopher Logothetis, chief of prostate cancer research at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, said Medicare coverage is essential to determine the potential of these treatments.
"It's no longer a fringe science. This is working," he told the AP. "We need to get it in the door so we can evolve it."