Leukemia Drug Prices Too Costly
April 27, 2013

Doctors Call On Drug Companies To Lower Cost Of Cancer Medications

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

More than 100 influential oncologists from over 15 different countries have joined forces to demand pharmaceutical companies reduce the prices of potentially life-saving cancer medication, some of which can cost patients in excess of $100,000 per year.

In a commentary published Thursday by Blood, the journal of the American Society of Hematology, 120 doctors and researchers specializing in the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) contend the price of the drugs needed to treat the condition is unsustainable and border-line immoral, according to Andrew Pollack of the New York Times.

“Patients with CML have a much better outlook today than ever before, thanks to advances that have greatly improved survival rates,” explained Dr. Hagop Kantarjian, corresponding author of the paper and the chairman of the leukemia department at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

“But these patients now face dire financial struggles as they try to maintain their treatment regimen with the drastically inflating cost of care. Since CML treatments must be taken on an ongoing basis, we are concerned that the surging prices are potentially harming patients,” he added, according to HealthDay News.

CML is a cancer of the white blood cells that responds well to drug therapy, CNN´s Stacy Cowley reports. The 10-year survival rate for individuals suffering from the disease now exceeds 80 percent for those who receive the targeted drugs, she said. However, the annual cost of the medication typically costs more than $100,000 each year, and the authors argue the prices charged have little to do with what it actually costs drug companies to make them.

One drug they mention specifically is imatinib, a drug marketed by Novartis under the name Gleevec in the US and Glivec in most international markets, Cowley said. When it originally hit the market in 2001, Gleevec cost $30,000 annually — but the wholesale price has since more than doubled to $76,000, and the retail price paid by patients and insurance companies tends to be even higher than that.

Gleevec is far from the only culprit, however, HealthDay News said. Eleven of the 12 cancer drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration last year came with six-figure price tags, and the average monthly cost for cancer drugs has doubled (from $5,000 to $10,000 per month) over the past decade. The authors called prices like that “unsustainable” and said they could be “causing harm” to cancer patients unable to afford their medication.

“Today, most of the FDA-approved drugs come at the price of over $100,000” — prices that Kantajarian told Jonathan LaPook of CBS News “makes it almost impossible for patients to afford them“¦ The bottom line is what drives the drug price is the corporate profit. The [corporations] decide what the size of the market is and how much they want to make profit. And they price the drug accordingly.”

“In many cases, it makes sense to let the market govern the price; however, when a product is directly related to a patient's survival over a period of years, it is critical to set a price that allows companies to profit and ensures that patients can afford their treatment,” he added, according to HealthDay News.