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Cancer drug costs on the rise despite pharma competition

In fact, prices for leukemia drugs increased by up to 95 percent, researchers found.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Lymphoma drug Rituximab-rituxanLymphoma drug Rituximab-rituxan

Anticancer drug costs in the United States increase substantially after launch regardless of competition, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The study systematically investigated oncology drug price changes with time, and what correlation it might have to the structure of the market, tracking the costs of individual drugs to determine if price increases are part of a broader phenomenon.

[Also: New cancer drug surpasses highest price to date]

The researchers measured the monthly price trajectories of 24 FDA-approved cancer drugs and assessed the influence of market structure on price changes. To account for discounts and rebates, the team used the average sales prices published by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and adjusted to general and health-related inflation rates. For each drug, the researchers calculated the cumulative and annual drug cost changes.

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They found that after a follow-up period of 12 years, the mean cumulative cost increase was 37 percent, including all injectable anticancer drugs. Annual changes in pricing did not appear to be affected by new supplemental FDA approvals, new off-label indications or new competition.

[Also: New Jersey oncologist, wife to pay $1.7 million over allegedly importing cancer drugs]

Notably, prices for leukemia drugs increased by 95 percent for arsenic trioxide/Trisenox and 85 percent for rituximab/Rituxan. Similar increases were found in trastuzumab/Herceptin for breast cancer, which jumped 78 percent.

In fact, the only drug price that decreased with time was ziv-aflibercept/Zaltrap, which is used for metastatic colorectal cancer. That drug was approved in 2012 and launched in the U.S. with a high -- and controversial -- price tag of more than $110,000 annually.

After a public outcry led by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, manufacturer Sanofi immediately cut the price in half. By the end of the follow-up period in 2017, costs had decreased 13 percent.

"Regardless of competition or supplemental indications, our study found that there is a steady increase in costs of patented anticancer drugs over time," the authors wrote. "We believe that new regulations may be needed to prevent additional increases in drug costs after launch especially since Medicare is legally prohibited from negotiating drug prices."

Twitter: @JELagasse
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