Randy Hillard was supposed to be dead by now. In 2010, the Michigan State University psychiatry professor was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer and given less than a year to live. He started wondering how he could die in the most comfortable way possible given the circumstances, even briefly researching an assisted suicide organization in Switzerland.
But Hillard, now 63 years old, lucked out. Around the same time he received his diagnosis, a breast cancer drug called Herceptin was approved to treat some forms of stomach cancer. For more than four years, a Herceptin infusion taken once every three weeks has kept Hillard alive – at a cost of $1 million, he estimates, with about $100,000 coming from his own pocket.
“I can barely afford that, and I’m a doctor,” he said.
So the vote that Hillard cast on a Food and Drug Administration panel earlier this month had some extra significance. Meeting at the FDA’s Silver Spring campus, the panel recommended the approval of the first in a new class of drugs called “biosimilars” – a type of generic drug that’s never before been available in the United States and would potentially save him and patients like him thousands of dollars.
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