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Leukaemia drug prices "unsustainable" say cancer experts

Study says patients may not be able to afford effective treatment

Leukaemia drug prices

The escalating cost of drugs to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) mean some patients may not be able to afford effective treatment, claims a prominent group of cancer professionals.

Around 120 physicians specialising in CML treatment have banded together to draw attention to the problem and issue a call for price reductions in the interest of patient health.

The experts single out three new drugs for CML approved by the FDA last year - Pfizer's Bosulif (bosutinib), Ariad Pharma's Iclusig (ponatinib) and Teva's Synribo (omacetaxine) - which they say have been priced at "astronomical" levels.

In fact, 11 of the 12 available drugs cost upwards of $100,000 a year, they note, pointing out that the price of cancer drugs has almost doubled in the last 10 years from around $5,000 to $10,000 per month.

The authors of the article, which was published in Blood, acknowledge the huge clinical benefits achieved by new therapies since the introduction of Novartis' Glivec (imatinib) in 2001, with many CML patients now living normal life spans.

That also means, however, that patients are subject to ongoing, maintenance treatment to prevent CML relapses and have become "financial victims" of the success of their treatment, particularly in the US where insured patients still typically have to fund around 20 per cent of drug treatment costs.

With Glivec achieving $4.7bn in sales last year, the question is now what determines "a morally justifiable 'just price' for a cancer drug", write the clinicians.

They note that Glivec was launched with a price of around $30,000 a year, which at the time was considered to be high but fair and able to recoup Novartis' investment in two years.

However, subsequent price increases have swelled the cost of a year's treatment to $90,000, while patent term extensions have delayed the entry of lower cost generics.

"We believe the unsustainable drug prices in CML and cancer may be causing harm to patients," say the authors. "Advocating for lower drug prices is a necessity to save the lives of patients who cannot afford them."

The head of Novartis Oncology, Herve Hoppenot, has responded to the claims in a letter to the journal in which he claims access programmes for CML patients are "unmatched", with the firm's Glivec and Tasigna (nilotinib) products offered free to around 5,000 patients a year.

"Globally, nearly one third of the Glivec produced annually is provided at no cost, to date reaching more than 50,000 patients in over 80 low-income countries," he said.

29th April 2013

From: Sales



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