Old cancer drugs, spendy new prices

Prices of older cancer drugs are rising much more steeply than those of newer drugs, according to a study co-authored by an OHSU oncologist.

Using Medicare data available for Part B, the researchers analyzed the change in average sales price of 86 cancer drugs from 2010 to 2015. Thirty-one drugs decreased in price and 55 increased in price, after adjusting for inflation. The prices of 11 drugs more than doubled.

Prices of 43 older drugs, those approved between the years 1949 to 1992, rose at a much steeper rate than those of the 43 newer drugs. The median price increase was 22.7 percent for older drugs compared with 6.2 percent for newer drugs. Vinay Prasad, M.D., M.P.H., an OHSU Knight Cancer Institute hematologist-oncologist and assistant professor of medicine, was the first author.

“Raising the price of older drugs seems particularly objectionable when one considers that the outlay for research and development occurred long ago, and has almost certainly already been recouped”

To convey the budgetary impact, Prasad and colleagues presented the example of oral cyclophosphamide. Its inflation-adjusted price rose 300 percent from 2010 to 2015, while absolute Medicare Part B spending on the drug increased from $1 million to $90 million.

Patients feel the burden. “Higher costs lead to higher copays,” co-author Sham Mailankody, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told Healthday News. “And empiric research suggests higher copays lead to treatment delays or discontinuation.”

Solutions to the high price of cancer drugs must consider the rising price of older drugs, the authors conclude.

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The Rising Price of Cancer Drugs—A New Old Problem? by Vinay Prasad, Ruibin Wang, Salma H. Afifi and Sham Mailankody. JAMA Oncology (October 6, 2016)