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French cancer docs blast greed of drugs companies

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The French doctors the pharmaceutical industry is making 'obscene profits'. Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP
14:24 CET+01:00
A group of 110 France's most prominent cancer specialists have issued an alarm call over the rising costs of the drugs used to treat the disease, accusing the pharmaceutical industry of cashing in on people's misery.

In an open letter published in the French daily Le Figaro, 110 cancer specialists from some of the country's most respected institutions, including the Institut Curie, Institut Gustave Roussy and Collège de France, slammed the rising costs of cancer treatments in both France and the rest of the world.

Despite many cancer cures being on the horizon, “the increasing, and now even exorbitant, prices are jeopardizing these hopes,” the doctors wrote, adding the hikes were “unjustified”.

France is respected for its successes in treating different sorts of cancers, but the trend of rising drug costs could prevent people from having equal and just access to proper treatment, they said.

“The bubble is about to explode,” Professor Jean-Paul Vernant, the ex-president of France's national institute of cancer and one of the authors of the letter, warned, pointing to “the obscene profits of the pharmaceutical industry”.

Unless changes are made, France could end up in a similar situation as the United States, the doctors warn.

In the US, the cancer treatment drug imatinib, also known as Glivec, is more than twice as expensive than it is in France, at a cost of around $8,400 per month (€7,500).

Despite the high prices, less than 15 percent of the profits made are re-invested into more research, they said, calling for a more democratic and transparent process in deciding the costs of cancer treatment drugs.

Earlier this year, a French study showed that the survival rates among sufferers of the most common cancers in France - breast, prostate and colorectal cancers - have improved significantly in the past few years.

The stats were taken from a comparison of two separate five-year blocks - 1989 to 1993 and 2005 to 2010.

When it came to prostate cancer, the most common cancer to affect French men, the study showed that the survival rate had jumped from 72 to 94 percent.

Breast cancer, which remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among French women, also saw improved survival rates, from 80 percent to 87 percent.

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Lastly, colorectal cancer survival rates improved from 54 to 63 percent over the period.

The improvements were put down to "major therapeutic advances" in the early 2000s, and a higher proportion of cancers detected at an early stage thanks to improved screening practices.

The latest statistics from France's National Cancer Institute, from 2012, show that France had 57,000 new cases of prostate cancer each year, 48,000 reports of breast cancer, and 42,000 cases of colorectal cancers.

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