Prices for Specialty Cancer Drugs Continue to Rise After Launch Year Interview with:

Stacie B. Dusetzina, PhD Assistant Professor Division of Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy Eshelman School of Pharmacy University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC

Dr. Stacie Dusetzina

Stacie B. Dusetzina, PhD
Assistant Professor
Division of Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy
Eshelman School of Pharmacy
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Dusetzina: Drug prices are of significant policy interest, particularly the prices for so-called “specialty” medications which are used to treat rare and/or complex conditions like cancer. In this study I estimated monthly price for orally-administered cancer treatments that were approved between 2000 and 2014. First I looked at the price of the drug during the year of initial FDA approval and then I looked at annual changes in the price after the year of approval. The main findings are that, even after inflation adjustment, the monthly price paid for orally-administered cancer treatments is increasing rapidly both at the time of approval and in subsequent years.

As an example, if you compare average monthly prices during the first year post-approval for treatments approved between 2000-2010 to those approved after 2010 there was a major increase in launch prices from $5,529 per month to $9,013 per month. Year-to-year changes in price after launch varied a lot by drug ranging from decreases in price of -2.7% per year to increases of 11.4% per year. However, nearly all of the products studied increased in price over time. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Dusetzina: Prices for cancer medications and other expensive treatments are important for clinicians to consider because prior research has shown that patients are less likely to fill medications that have high out-of-pocket costs. This could lead to worse health outcomes. Clinicians should ask their patients about whether they are able to afford their medications and are taking them as prescribed since coverage for drugs varies widely across insurance types. For patients, asking your doctor or pharmacist about strategies available to help to manage the drug costs if they are very high could be beneficial. There are assistance programs for many drugs that are available to help to cover out-of-pocket costs. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Dusetzina: This is a rapidly changing area of research so ongoing monitoring of drug price changes is important. One major limitation of the data that is currently available for this and other similar studies is that the prices do not reflect rebates paid by manufacturers to health plans. Learning more about this missing piece of information would help to inform just how much is being spent on these drugs. Work is also needed to demonstrate the extent to which these prices are impacting patient access to drugs and their health. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Dr. Dusetzina: Although the financial impact on patients is not clear from this paper, people who have to pay a percentage of the drug costs (called co-insurance) are very negatively impacted by these increasing prices. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Drug Pricing Trends for Orally Administered Anticancer Medications Reimbursed by Commercial Health Plans, 2000-2014 

JAMA Oncology Published online April 28, 2016

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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