New research has examined the disproportionate nature of the prices of cancer drugs in the US. The study, made public at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s meeting in Chicago on June 6th, examined the prices of 15 generic and 8 patented cancer drugs in six different countries – America, Australia, Britain, China, India, and South Africa. The median cost in the U.S was highest, at $654 for generic, and $8,694 for patented drugs. The overall average for both generic and patented drugs was 2.5 times higher than the second highest average price included in the study.
The research comes during a period of high anxieties in the U.S regarding rising medication prices, and during a time of continued economic insecurity for many Americans. It also comes in the wake of Pfizer’s announcement of price hikes last week – by roughly 9 percent on list prices for its medicines in the US, including cancer medications. Pfizer announced price hikes in January as well, by just over 10 percent. These issues came to the forefront last year after Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Turing Pharmaceuticals were criticized for a strategy of purchasing medicines and immediately raising prices significantly. These companies have claimed that increased profits often go towards research and development, but these issues have nonetheless garnered attention from congress and a place in recent presidential campaigns.
The new study goes on to compare drug prices in all six locations to gross domestic product per capita at purchasing-power parity, showing that drugs may be more affordable for the average citizen in the US than in China or India at lower prices. This may not be of much comfort to lower-income Americans, as income inequality and healthcare access remain hot button issues.
Cancer drugs have been greatly increasing in price for the last 15 years in the US, with average out-of-pocket treatment costs for cancer reaching 20,000 to 30,000 a year, almost half the national average income. According to the study, the median monthly price of branded cancer drugs in the US was $8,700 – the next most expensive was in China, at $3,200, followed by $2,700 in Australia, $2,600 in the United Kingdom, $1,700 in South Africa, and $1,500 in India. The prices of cancer drugs in the US have increased 5 to 10-fold since before 2000. In 2012, 12 out of 13 newly approved drugs were priced at more than $100,000 for one year of therapy. These facts have led many doctors and citizens to question whether these prices have gotten out of hand in the US.