Spending Growth on Oral Oncology Drugs Greater Than All Other Pharmaceuticals

Brand name, patent-protected medications drive increasing costs.

Brand name, patent-protected medications drive increasing costs.

Spending on oral anti-cancer drugs has experienced rapid growth in recent years as a result of new brand-name treatments, according to the results of a recent study.

Published in the October 2014 issue of Health Affairs, researchers from the University of Chicago and Pembroke Consulting, Inc examined spending trends from the first quarter of 2006 through the third quarter of 2011. During that time frame, average spending on 47 available oral oncology drugs increased from $940 million to $1.4 billion.

"This is an exciting time, an era of breakthrough cancer drugs," said study co-author Rena M. Conti, PhD. "Some of these medications have extended the lives of many people with certain types of cancer. Other new drugs may provide cures for patients suffering now. However, spending on these brand-name oral oncologics is outstripping national spending on all pharmaceuticals and all medical care spending generally."

The study finds that the spending increase in oncolytics was driven by brand-name, patent-protected treatments. Even with the significant spending increase, usage of oral oncology medications only climbed a comparatively small amount, which suggests that increases in the cost of these drugs are partially responsible for the spending trends, the authors note.

The average monthly cost of branded oncology drugs has doubled over the last decade, increasing from $5000 in 2003 to $10,000 in 2013, with some individual oncology drugs costing more than $30,000 per month, according to a report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

Biologic oncology products currently represent more than $20 billion in global spending.

The researchers did find some positives despite the escalating costs. Many of the more recent oral oncologics are targeted agents, which carry more mild side effects when compared with traditional chemotherapy. Spending in the United States spiked from 35% of all oral oncology drugs in 2006 to nearly 60% in 2011.

Additionally, the researchers found a benefit for patients when oncologic drugs lose patent protection. Even with a 16% increase in the use of drugs that recently lost their patents, the average quarterly spending on those drugs dropped by 65%.

Despite the fact that patent expirations are imminent for a number of major drugs, IMS predicts competition from biosimilars to largely affect supportive care agents and emerging nations. Oncology drugs soon to face patent expirations will represent an approximately $35 billion annual opportunity, according to IMS.

“The potential role of biosimilars in developed markets will be limited, however, if the expected flow of patent-protected innovative products continues to displace older off-patent products subjected to biosimilar competition,” the authors wrote.