A British-led petition signed by 29,000 people has demanded that Switzerland's Roche, the world's biggest maker of cancer medicines, cut the price of its expensive new breast cancer drug Kadcyla.
The campaign shows the growing pressure on drug companies as a raft of promising new cancer treatments reach the market. U.S. insurers also say they are alarmed by a coming flood of cancer medicines with "astronomical price tags", while pricing rows have flared in France and Italy.
Kadcyla can add about half a year to the lives of some women with inoperable breast cancer but Britain's cost watchdog NICE estimates it costs about 90,000 pounds ($145,000) per patient and is too pricey for the state-run health service.
Roche argues the cost reflects the benefits offered by its innovative treatment. It also disputes the headline price cited by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
NICE bases its calculation on a mean treatment course of 14.5 months, whereas the median length of treatment in clinical trials - the measure Roche believes is more relevant - was 9.6 months, reducing the cost per patient significantly.
The Care2 petition, calling on Roche Chief Executive Severin Schwan to reduce the price of Kadcyla to a level public health services can afford, was started by British breast cancer survivor Margaret Connolly.
Kadcyla combines the antibody used in Roche's established Herceptin drug and a tumour-killing payload that is delivered directly into cancer cells, causing fewer chemotherapy-related side effects such as hair loss.
It is one of a number of targeted therapies that are revolutionising cancer care. Other promising new approaches include a range of drugs to help the immune system fight cancer, which also carry a high price.