Prices for the cancer drug lomustine have rocketed nearly 1,400% since 2013, putting a potentially life-saving treatment out of reach for patients suffering from brain tumours and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. CBS News reports that although the 40-year-old medication is no longer protected by patents, no generic version is available.
The report quotes the Wall Street Journal as saying that lomustine was sold by Bristol-Myers Squib for years under the brand name CeeNU at a price of about $50 a capsule for the highest dose. The drugmaker sold lomustine in 2013 to a little-known Miami startup called NextSource, which proceeded to hike lomustine’s price nine times since. It now charges about $768 per pill for the medication.
The report says according to an analysis, NextSource this year raised prices for the drug, which it rebranded as Gleostine, by 12% in November following a 20% increase in August.
The report quotes NextSource CEO Robert DiCrisci as saying that the company sets its prices based on the costs it incurred in developing the medication and the benefits it provides patients. Like other drugmakers, the company provides discounts and financial assistance to those who can’t afford its cost.
Henry S Friedman, a professor of neurosurgery at Duke University School of Medicine, accused NextSource of “price-gouging”, adding: “People are not going to be able to afford it, or they’re going to pay a lot of money and have financial liability.”
The US Food and Drug Adminstration is offering to expedite the regulatory review process for more than 300 drugs like lomustine that lack generic competitors although their patents have expired, part of the Trump administration’s overall effort to lower pharmaceutical prices. The report notes, however, that whether there is enough demand for a niche product like lomustine is hard to say.
The report says soaring prices for cancer drugs are a concern for both patients and doctors because financial pressures can lead to delays in seeking treatment that can easily surpass six figures per year.
Patients with cancer are among the most likely to feel the pain of recent drug price hikes. Novartis, the Swiss drugmaker, is charging $475,000 per patient for its Kymriah treatment for certain types of blood cancers. Another blood cancer medication developed by Gilead Sciences called Yescarta costs $373,000. The brain tumour treatment called Alecensa is priced at nearly $160,000 a year.CBS News report