The problem? There’s no formalized plan to do so—yet.
Ann Gieger, an adviser to the panel and the deputy associate director of Healthcare Delivery Research Program at the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, told The Daily Beast that the next steps are still pending.
"In the most proximal sense, [cancer is] experienced by patients and families not just at treatment but at cancer survivorship" which often requires a spate of drugs to ensure remission, she said.
The panel, which was created during the Richard Nixon administration's "War on Cancer," periodically meets to discuss cancer treatments and to update the president, offering recommendations to the president for combating the disease and its impact on Americans.
Keyword: recommendations, which means that while the panel's recommendation to reduce the cost of cancer treatment drugs is certainly admirable and a step forward in making these treatments more available to those who might not be able to afford groundbreaking experimental treatments and clinical trials, there's as yet no real plan to implement.
"The report doesn't get quite that specific [regarding value]," Gieger admitted, saying that in the United States, there is no real body defining what that value is. “The National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine will have to convene to define what 'value' is [defined as]." Doing so, Gieger said, would allow the panel to scientifically assess the benefit each dose of a cancer drug brings to a patient to judge the true cost of each cancer drug.
The panel, which focused on overall cancer drug costs, did not research whether certain forma of cancer were more expensive to treat than others.
As for how cancer drug prices could be slashed? Gieger admitted that the panel doesn’t have the relevant data yet to be able to make those sorts of suggestions. "The panel is purely advisory, and the recommendations tend to be broad," she said.
So what good are these cancer panels if they can't lead to viable solutions?
"There are a number of things that can happen in the next couple years," Gieger said. "We can call for the FDA to have appropriate resources [set aside] for safety and efficacy.”
The last panel, which convened in 2012 and 2013, pushed for HPV vaccinations to be increased among girls (boys have also been encouraged to get vaccinated, but the initiative and recommendation here was focused on girls; "I can't speak to boys," Gieger said).
But it was difficult to ascertain exactly what the benefits were. "I'm aware of improvement for girls [vaccination rates]," Gieger told The Daily Beast. "Things do happen as a result." In 2016, 60 percent of girls had gotten HPV vaccinations, an increase of 4 percentage points, according to the CDC.
That the panel is making recommendations for the reduction of cancer drug costs is noteworthy, and certainly will help the millions of Americans who struggle to pay for treatment, bankrupting themselves as they seek desperately to extend their lives and beat cancer.
"If the complexity of the stakeholders panel could cause things to move in a year, that would be great," Gieger said of a potential timeline. "There is going to be a fair amount of work for stakeholders"—who she defined as not just patients, but their families, the government, pharmaceutical companies, and employers who purchase insurance coverage for employees. "Many people are affected, and we really have to provide a foundation for those conversations."