Blood Cancer Drugs Overpriced

Patients face significant financial burdens from treatment.

Patients face significant financial burdens from treatment.

Current blood cancer treatments carry a high price tag that prevents them from being considered cost effective in the United States, a recent study indicates.

Published in the current issue of the journal Cancer, the study from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center noted that significant gains have been made in survival and quality of life following treatment for hematologic cancers, however drug costs have grown exponentially. These costs have led to substantial financial burdens on patients also dealing with diminished household income levels.

The study also noted that up to 20% of patients forgo or compromise their treatment strategy as a result of high drug costs.

A previous study that labeled these drugs cost effective evaluated 29 studies of 9 treatments for hematologic cancers, including chronic myeloid leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, which suggested these drugs provide reasonable value for the money.

The current study found the cost effectiveness calculations from the prior research used drug prices at the time of the original studies while sometimes including prices from countries outside of the United States. The current study re-evaluated the analysis using current drug prices in US dollars.

“We found that, in a majority of the studies, the incremental cost effectiveness ratios were substantially higher than the previously reported values,” said study lead Jagpreet Chhatwal, PhD, in a press release. “This led us to the conclusion that current prices are too high to say that the drugs provide a good value for the money.”

The researchers evaluated effectiveness in terms of the cost necessary to gain an additional quality year of life with a threshold value of $50,000, below which the treatment can be deemed cost effective.

After evaluating 20 of the 29 studies with updated drug prices, the results showed that 63% of the studies had costs per additional life-year above the $50,000 threshold. Meanwhile, it was found that several drugs had costs of $210,000 to $426,000 per additional life-year.

The study noted that based upon improved quality of life, the current drug prices cannot be justified.

The drug imatinib cost $26,000 per year of therapy in 2001, but increased to $132,000 annually in 2014, which was the result of increasing prices charged by drug companies, the study found.

The long term implications of cost increases for drugs meant to be taken daily for many years to manage the disease would cause extremely large financial burdens, even among the well insured, according to the study.

The researchers found that many patients cannot afford the treatments, which will cause them to either use financial resources to extend their lives or save money for their families.

“The trend for drug prices continues to go upward,” Dr. Chhatwal said. “This is very concerning, particularly for new drugs coming to market soon that are almost all priced above $100,000 per year of treatment. This is becoming very unaffordable and unsustainable.”