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Can Rx monopolies be tamed?

Why prescription drugs cost twice as much in U.S. versus other advanced nations ― and what might be done about it

Aug. 23, 2016 | By Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

prescription drugs

Americans, on average, pay more than double for prescriptions compared to other industrialized nations ― largely due to drug monopolies, Harvard researchers contend.

Stock photo by FeaturePics

Here’s one Rx for slashing runaway drug costs: get the monopoly money out of U.S. health care.

That’s the finding of a new study by Harvard researchers who blame “government-protected monopolies” granted to drug makers for fueling the surge in prescription prices ― a trend that’s hitting American patients hardest of all.

In the U.S., spending on prescribed drugs exceeded $850 per capita in 2013 ― compared to $400 for the rest of the industrialized world, reports the study, published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. As a result, prescription meds now comprise nearly 20 percent of total health care costs, jeopardizing the wellness of many patients who can’t afford their doctor-ordered drugs, researchers noted.

“Unlike … nearly every other advanced nation, the U.S. health care system allows manufacturers to set their own price for a given product,” wrote lead author Dr. Aaron S. Kesselheim, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and a pharmacoeconomist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He and colleagues analyzed 12 years’ worth of peer-reviewed medical and health-policy literature on the topic. 

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Which cells to choose?

New study explores whether stem cells from bone marrow or blood offer transplant patients better quality of life

Aug. 16, 2016 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

BMT reunion

Bone marrow transplant patients gather on the Fred Hutch campus for the 2015 BMT reunion. Fred Hutch researchers played a pivotal role in developing bone marrow transplantation, a procedure that has been conducted more than 1 million times worldwide and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

For many patients with blood diseases like leukemia, their best shot at survival is to replace their diseased blood and immune cells with a transplant of healthy cells from an unrelated donor. A new study published this month provides those in need of these lifesaving transplants with additional information to guide a critical choice ― deciding whether cells for transplant be collected from the donor’s bloodstream or taken from their bone marrow.

A large, nationwide study published this month in the journal JAMA Oncology found that people who received transplants of cells collected from the donor’s bone marrow ― the original source for blood stem cell transplants, developed decades ago ― had better self-reported psychological well-being, experienced fewer symptoms of a common post-transplant side effect and were more likely to be back at work five years after transplant than those whose transplanted cells were taken from the donor’s bloodstream. 

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‘I ride for...’ : 4th annual Obliteride raises nearly $2M — and counting — for Fred Hutch

More than 1,500 cyclists pedaled across the finish line this weekend — with names of survivors, patients and loved ones lost to cancer surrounding them

Aug. 15, 2016 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Obliteride cyclists pull away from the start line at Fred Hutch

Pediatric oncologist Kasey Leger and other 'Obliteriders' pull away from the start line at Fred Hutch on Aug. 14 for the 25-mile route. Riders also tackled 150-, 50- and 10-mile routes, all in support of cancer research at the Hutch.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

On Sunday morning, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s campus was a sea of orange and metallic silver.

A tiny dog wearing an orange tutu darted through the crowds, followed by a pair of children carrying orange pompoms. Orange banners and tablecloths fluttered in the sun. And, of course, there were the hundreds of orange bicycle jerseys — against a backdrop of the glinting silver and black of hundreds of bikes at rest, waiting for their turn to roll out — as riders milled around at Obliteride’s starting line.

This weekend’s fundraising bike ride — the fourth annual — was an event of big numbers. Nearly 1,500 riders cycled across start and finish lines, pedaling routes ranging from 10 to 150 miles. The teams and individual riders have so far raised nearly $2 million to fund cancer research at Fred Hutch, with donations continuing to roll in for the next month. And everyone there — riders, organizers, volunteers, scientists — held the hope that their dollars and research will one day lead to better treatments and cures for the more than 14 million people around the world diagnosed with cancer every year. 

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Meet 3 'Obliteriders'

For Nancy Evans, Brian Tracy and Dr. Jerry Radich, this weekend’s fundraising bike ride is personal

Aug. 12, 2016 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Nancy Evans, right, is gearing up for her fourth Obliteride

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor Nancy Evans, right, is gearing up for her fourth Obliteride this weekend. Riding with her on the 150-mile route will be her daughter, Dr. Heather Evans, left.

Photo courtesy of Obliteride

When Nancy Evans was diagnosed with cancer, she kept thinking about a bicycle.

She had recently moved to Seattle from Maryland and saw many cyclists tooling around her Magnolia neighborhood. Evans, who was 71 at the time, had been athletic her whole life and thought picking up cycling sounded like a great idea.

But a routine checkup in 2011, when she casually mentioned a lump she’d found in her armpit, soon led to a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin mantle cell lymphoma.

Evans sat in her car after the appointment where she’d heard that news, going back and forth about the bike she’d been thinking about buying. She wasn’t sure if it was still a good idea.

“I sat in the car for about 15 minutes [thinking], ‘If I have this cancer and I’m going to have chemotherapy and I’m not going to be able to ride a bike, what am I going to do?’” said Evans, who is now 76. “So I said, ‘I’m going for it!’”

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Aug. 11, 2016

Dr. Amit Sharma

Dr. Amit Sharma

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Amit Sharma receives prestigious Pathway to Independence Award

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientist Dr. Amit Sharma, an investigator in the Hutch’s Human Biology Division, has received a Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health.

The award will cover two years of mentored postdoctoral support in the lab of Dr. Julie Overbaugh, where he currently works, followed by two years of independent support designed to help Sharma set up his own lab. Funding for the $692,000 grant will come from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Only “highly promising candidates” have a shot at the four-year grants, according to the NIH. Sharma, who last fall was awarded a $150,000 fellowship from The Foundation for AIDS Research, said he will use the latest award to further his research in the realm of simian HIV-like viruses used in HIV vaccine experiments. 

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HPV vaccine boosts immune memory

A single dose of the HPV vaccine can strengthen immune memory in people who’ve previously been infected with HPV — and potentially help prevent re-infection

Aug. 10, 2016 | By Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

HPV vaccine

Illustration by Eleanor Lutz /

It’s long been known that the vaccine against the human papilloma virus offers protection when administered to those who’d never experienced HPV infection. But new research suggests the possibility that it could also help those who’d been previously infected to guard against re-infection, according to results recently published in EBioMedicine.

Vaccines are designed to create immunity, also known as immune memory, to keep infection at bay. Researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have found that the HPV vaccine helps the immune system “remember” the virus better than natural HPV infection itself. A single dose of the vaccine appears to improve immune memory in those previously infected with HPV, raising the possibility that the vaccine could help prevent re-infection.

Until now, whether the vaccine could benefit those who had already experienced HPV infection was unknown, said senior author Dr. Denise Galloway, a virologist at Fred Hutch whose work linking HPV to cervical cancer and development of virus-like particles helped pave the way to the vaccine.

“We wondered if we gave [previously infected individuals] vaccine, could you boost that immunity?” said Galloway. “And the answer to that was definitely yes.”

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