Group Of Experts Looks At High Price Of Cancer Drugs

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By Brittany Ngo for Intellectual Property Watch

Prices of cancer drugs must be lowered to be affordable for patients and to maintain sound long-term healthcare policies, according to a group of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) experts in a recent Blood journal editorial.

The authors of this editorial collaborated to bring attention to the high prices of cancer drugs by addressing various factors involved in cancer drug pricing and their impact on individual patients and healthcare policies, with a focus on the prices of tyrosine kinase inhibitors for CML treatment.

In the editorial [pdf], the group of more than 100 experts argued that the current prices of CML drugs are “too high, unsustainable, may compromise access of needy patients to highly effective therapy, and are harmful to the sustainability of our national healthcare systems.”

Imatinib, a CML treatment that has been on the market for over a decade and originally developed as a “goodwill gesture” by Novartis, is one of the most successful cancer therapies.

The drug set the bar high for the cost of cancer drugs, boasting annual revenues of approximately $4.7 billion in 2012. Initially priced at nearly $30,000 per year when imatinib was released in 2001, the cost of the drug increased to $92,000 in 2012, despite the fact that all research costs were accounted for in the original proposed price.

The US patent expiration date of imatinib was set for 28 May 2013, but was later extended to January 2015 by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Three new CML drugs were approved by the FDA in 2012, but are priced at “astronomical levels,” the authors said: ponatinib at $138,000 per year, omacetaxine at $28,000 for induction and $14,000 per maintenance course, and bosutinib at about $118,000 per year.

The group of experts took the view that innovation and discoveries should be rewarded, especially given the huge financial investments that go into drug research and development (R&D). But they also noted that drug prices often reflect geopolitical and socioeconomics dynamics unrelated to the cost of drug development. Citing the US as an example, the authors said US prices reflect a “free market economy” and the notion that “one cannot put a price on a human life,” as well as a failure of government and insurers to more actively negotiate pricing for anti-cancer and other pharmaceuticals.

Brittany Ngo is currently completing her Master’s in Health Policy and Global Health at the Yale School of Public Health and previously obtained a Bachelor’s of Arts in Economics from Georgetown University. Through her studies she has developed an interest in health-related intellectual property issues. She is a summer intern at Intellectual Property Watch.


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