Doctors Call for Lower Cancer Drug Prices

A group of more than 100 cancer experts concerned about the high prices for therapies for chronic myeloid leukemia and other cancers is appealing to drugmakers to lower prices on costly drugs to allow more patients to afford them.

This article published with permission from The Burrill Report.

A group of more than 100 cancer experts concerned about the high prices for therapies for chronic myeloid leukemia and other cancers is appealing to drugmakers to lower prices on costly drugs to allow more patients to afford them.

“We believe the unsustainable drug prices in CML and cancer may be causing harm to patients,” they write in the journal American Society of Hematology, Blood. “Advocating for lower drug prices is a necessity to save the lives of patients who cannot afford them.”

Lowering prices on tyrosine kinase inhibitor therapies for CML would help increase the percentage of patients that stick to their treatments, expand the number of patients with the disease who live longer, and ultimately increase revenues for pharmaceutical companies for the class, the authors suggest.

Hugo Kantarjian, a professor and administrator at The University of Texas' M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, is the letter's corresponding author. He wrote a related editorial with M.D. Anderson professor Leonard Zwelling in the February issue of the American Society of Clinical Oncology publication, The ASCO Post, suggesting that experts in particular tumors meet to discuss the prices of new cancer drugs once they are FDA-approved.

The editorial, published in Blood, identifies three drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012 for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia as being priced at “astronomical levels”: Ariad's Iclusig, at $138,000 per year; Teva’s Synribo, at $28,000 for induction and $14,000 per maintenance course; and Pfizer’s Bosulif at about $118,000 per year.

“Innovation and discoveries must be rewarded,” the authors write. But a more reasonable approach to drug pricing, they argue, would be one that maintains “healthy pharmaceutical company profits without being viewed as ‘profiteering’ (making profit by unethical methods, like raising commodity prices after natural disasters).”

To make progress toward cancer drug pricing that is more sustainable for patients and payers, the group proposes regular meetings, involving stakeholder including the FDA, drugmakers, and other parties involved in drug development “to address the reasons behind high cancer drug prices and offer solutions to reduce them.”

“For CML, and for other cancers, we believe drug prices should reflect objective measures of benefit, but should also not exceed values that harm our patients and societies,” they conclude.

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