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    Sharp price increases for cancer drugs

    A majority of oncology drugs—particularly older cancer drugs—had price hikes in 2015, according to a new study. Plus, Ariad Pharmaceuticals raised the price of its chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) drug ponatinib (Iclusig) for the fourth time this year to around $199,000 a year, according to The Street.

    Ariad says the price hikes are justified because Iclusig "addresses an area of high unmet medical need in an ultra-orphan patient population of around 1,000-2,000 patients per year,” the article stated. However, The Street argues that the only reason Iclusig is targeted at so few CML patients is because the drug is “not safe enough for a broader swath of CML patients”.

    Related: Cancer drug prices not linked to survival rates

    Meanwhile, the new JAMA Oncology research letter found that that nearly two-thirds of 86 cancer drugs covered by Medicare Part B had price increases between 2010 and 2015. Surprisingly, the price of older drugs jumped 23% in price, a higher rate than newer drugs, according to researchers that included Sham Mailankody, oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

    Mailankody also found that the pricing of oncology drugs is not necessarily based on their novelty or effectiveness, according to a JAMA Oncology study published last year.

    In that study, researchers found that “current pricing models are not rational but simply reflect what the market will bear," wrote Mailankody, Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH, with the Medical Oncology Service at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., and other researchers.

    Related: Pharmacy companies underinvest in cancer drugs

    The researchers identified 51 oncology drugs approved by FDA between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2013. The drugs that were approved based on disease response rate (RR) were priced highest, with median costs per year of treatment of $137,952. This was greater than the price of drugs approved on the basis of overall survival (OS), which carried a median cost of $112,370 annually, and drugs approved on the basis of progressive or disease-free survival (PFS), which have a median cost of $102,677 per year.

    “There was no significant difference in the price of drugs approved on the basis of OS or PFS,” the authors wrote. They also found no significant relationship between cost and the percentage improvement in end point.

    “Our results suggest that the price of cancer drugs is independent of novelty. Additionally, we found little difference in price among drugs approved based on time-to-event end points and drugs approved on the basis of response rate,” they wrote.

    Read more: Top 7 new facts about drug spending

    Christine Blank
    Contributing Editor Christine Blank is a freelance writer based in Florida.

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