The leading group of U.S. cancer doctors created a scoring system for oncology drugs, awarding a zero for overall benefit to the $9,200-a-month regimen featuring Eli Lilly & Co.’s Alimta.

The formula ranges from zero to 100 points and was published Monday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. It aims to simplify the complex statistics behind cancer medicines into a single “net health benefit” score that weighs a drug’s ability to extend life or delay progression against potential toxic side effects.

The ultimate goal is to assess many drugs and put the data into a user-friendly mobile software application that patients and doctors can use at the bedside, said Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer for the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which convened a task force to assess value.

The scoring system combines efficacy and toxicity data into a single number, with the most weight given for how much a drug extends survival or delays disease progression. Points are subtracted or added if a new drug regimen is more or less toxic than the previous standard it was tested against. Drugs for advanced cancer can get bonus points if they reduce symptoms or lead to treatment-free periods, giving those medications a potential maximum score of 130.


Lilly’s Alimta, which scored a zero as part of a regimen for advanced lung cancer, was the company’s top-selling drug in 2014 with $2.79 billion in revenue. Analysts expect Alimta will continue to generate sales of more than $2 billion through 2021, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Lilly spokeswoman Carla Cox said the company was still reviewing the system and said the assessment doesn’t represent the intended patient population of people with nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer.

“What I can say is that tools that make generalizations about the value of cancer medicines in the interest of cutting costs dismiss the continuous and complex nature of cancer innovation and could threaten future progress and patient access to better treatments,” she said.

So far, the oncology group has only scored a handful of drug cocktails for advanced lung cancer, advanced prostate cancer, multiple myeloma and early-stage breast cancer. The highest score so far is 48 of 100 for an early-stage breast cancer regimen including Herceptin from Roche Holding AG.

Some expensive drug regimens for advanced cancer get low scores.

A lung cancer regimen including Roche’s Avastin gets a mere 16 points out of a possible 130 score for overall health benefits because of its small survival benefit. The treatment costs more than $11,900 per month, according to the study.

Susan Willson, a spokeswoman for Roche’s Genentech division, said the company had not yet had the chance to review the details of the ratings.

“We support efforts to better understand how treatments affect patients,” she said. “Medicines like Avastin, Herceptin and Tarceva have helped people live with cancers that were once a death sentence.”

Herceptin, for example, has helped more than 90 percent of people with one type of breast cancer live at least five years, she said.

In prostate cancer, a cocktail including Sanofi’s Jevtana received a 16 of 130 possible points, with a cost of about $10,700 per month. Greg Miley, a Sanofi spokesman, said he had no immediate comment.