Cost for new oral cancer drugs skyrocketed in last decade

The cost of a new oral cancer drug was six times higher in 2014 than it was in 2000.

By Stephen Feller

CHAPEL HILL, N.C., April 29 (UPI) -- A new drug for cancer introduced in 2014 costs about six times the price of a new drug in 2000, with the cost of many other drugs to treat the disease increasing in price significantly during that time, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina found the skyrocketing prices line up with changes in health insurance making patients responsible for more of the cost and potentially put people in the position of not being able to afford treatment.


Cancer drugs taken orally, which are better targeted to attack cancer and are often preferable to intravenous chemotherapy, has been a focus of the pharmaceutical industry.

Private insurance has often favored orally-delivered cancer drugs, offering what researchers call "generous coverage," but in recent years more of the cost has been shifted to consumers, which could cause problems.

"Patients are increasingly taking on the burden of paying for these high-cost specialty drugs as plans move toward use of higher deductibles and co-insurance, where a patient will pay a percentage of the drug cost rather than a flat copay," Dr. Stacie Dusetzina, an assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina, said in a press release.


For the study, published in the journal JAMA Oncology, Dusetzina reviewed changes in drug reimbursements for cancer drugs paid out by commercial health plans between 2000 and 2014 using the TruvenHealth MarketScan Commercial Claims and Encounters database.

Since 2000, 32 oral cancer drugs have been introduced, with 17 launched between 2011 and 2013, though new drugs were approved in nearly every year of the 15-year period, aside from 2002, 2008 and 2010.

A new oral cancer drug introduced in 2000 cost about $1,869 per month, while the average cost was $11,325 per month for a drug approved in 2014 -- about six times more. Among the largest increases was the price of Gleevec, which rose by about 7.5 percent per year between 2001 and 2014, increasing from $3,346 per month to $8,479, Dusetzina reports.

Shawn Osborne, vice president of pharmacy and supply chain services at University Hospitals of Cleveland, told ABC News the drugs are more effective against cancer than older ones, which motivates companies to charge even more than they used to when drugs are new.

"The major trend here is that these products are just getting more expensive over time," Dusetzina said, though she does not speculate on reasons why.


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