>> Cancer patients have found surprising hope in drugs that fight the disease through the immune system. But one leading US official thinks the biggest drug companies could be focusing too much on these treatments. The FDA has already approved immunotherapy drugs from Merck, Bristol-Myers, Squib, and Roche, and five other drug makers are also developing similar medicines.
Rans Pierson is a health reporter for Reuters.>> The head of oncology for the FDA, Dr. Richard Pazdur, was talking to one of our reporters and mentioned that he was a little concerned that so many drug makers are now working on this mechanism to block this protein called PD-1.
That perhaps we're gonna have a bunch of me too drugs, that are not that much different from each other, all kind of doing the same thing, all having the same trick that they're playing.>> The drugs work by inhibiting a protein called PD-1 that allows cancer tumors to hide from our immune systems.
By concentrating their focus, drug makers may be diverting resources from finding more novel solutions, but Pierson says that treatments have given drug makers some remarkable wins against the deadly disease.>> Something like 20% of people who failed on everything else have derived pretty good benefit from these drugs, and a significant percentage of them are living.
In terms of Opdivo drug from Bristol-Myers for lung cancer, some patients are alive for two years, a significant percentage of patients. With Merck's drug Keytruda From melanoma, some patients are alive for three years. Because of that, other drug makers want to do the same thing.>> Pharma Industry executive's defender approach, saying they are using the treatments only as a starting point, and are developing other drugs that can work in combination.
Currently, one course of treatment can be very expensive, at about $150,000. Which is why, in the end, patients may benefit from lower costs if Merck and Bristol Myers face more rivals in the market place.