The Gift of Life: Pharmaceutical Companies Helping Patients Afford Their Cancer Medication

Patients who can’t afford their cancer medications may be able to get the drugs for free, or at a reduced cost, from the pharmaceutical companies that make them.
ELIZABETH celebrating her last Herceptin
treatment with her healthcare team - PHOTO COURTESY OF GENENTECH
ELIZABETH celebrating her last Herceptin treatment with her healthcare team - PHOTO COURTESY OF GENENTECH
It took less than six weeks for the pea-sized lump in Elizabeth’s breast to grow larger than a golf ball. The biopsy showed stage 3b invasive ductal carcinoma. Luckily, specialists at The Mayo Clinic’s Phoenix campus said that a cutting-edge treatment regimen with two targeted medications could potentially eliminate the cancer. There was just one problem with the plan: Money.

Elizabeth, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her family’s privacy, had no insurance. Her family’s income and savings were enough to finance therapy solely with the chemotherapy Abraxane (paclitaxel), which cost $1,400 per treatment at Mayo. But when testing at the institution showed her cancer to be HER2-positive, her doctor wanted to supplement the chemotherapy with Herceptin (trastuzumab) and Perjeta (pertuzumab), targeted drugs that can significantly improve survival in this subtype of cancer. That increased the bill to $45,000 per treatment.

The family took out a second mortgage, but even that would not cover the bills. Financial ruin seemed inevitable, until Elizabeth noticed a link on the main page of the Perjeta website.

“It said ‘Financial assistance for those who qualify,’” recalls Elizabeth. “I clicked the link, read the rules and saw that we qualified. I quickly filled out the patient forms. Mayo took a bit longer to fill out the provider forms. The whole thing took about three weeks, and then I got the call from Genentech saying that I was in. The company would cover my Herceptin and Perjeta. I wanted to hug the guy over the phone.”

“It was the most amazing gift,” adds Elizabeth, now a couple of years past her diagnosis. “It makes me teary just thinking about it. We would have lost our house. We would have lost everything if Genentech hadn’t stepped in.”

Genentech isn’t the only pharmaceutical company that runs a prescription assistance program. Nearly all of them provide very expensive medications at little or no cost to qualifying patients who apply for help.

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