Arthritis, cancer treatments show biggest price increases in US

Report says Humira and Rituxan topped list of drugs with highest spike in cost, despite doubt about research methods.

US drug prices remain notoriously high, despite pressure from legislators in both parties in the US Congress to push prices down to affordable levels [George Frey/Reuters]
US drug prices remain notoriously high, despite pressure from legislators in both parties in the US Congress to push prices down to affordable levels [George Frey/Reuters]

AbbVie Inc’s rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira and Roche Holding AG’s cancer drug Rituxan topped a list of seven treatments whose combined 2017 and 2018 price hikes accounted for a $5.1bn increase in United States spending, a report released on Tuesday showed.

The price hikes were more than twice the rate of medical inflation – the overall annual rise in healthcare costs – and were not supported by any new clinical evidence, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) said in the analysis.

It was the first such annual report by the Boston-based research group, which assesses the cost-effectiveness of drugs.

Based on total spending, other top treatments called out in the report were Pfizer Inc’s pain drug Lyrica, Gilead Sciences Inc’s HIV drug Truvada, Amgen Inc’s white blood cell booster Neulasta, Eli Lilly & Co’s erectile dysfunction drug Cialis and Biogen Inc’s multiple sclerosis treatment Tecfidera.

US drug prices are tough to pin down. Companies may provide list prices, but they also negotiate discounts and after-market rebates with purchasers and their representatives – such as pharmacy benefit managers, health insurers and employers, as well as government and state health coverage programmes.

Drugmakers have been under increasing political scrutiny to lower costs to consumers and have responded by limiting annual list price hikes to under 10 percent in many cases.

ICER evaluated the drug pricing in partnership with the research firm SSR Health, which calculated the cost increases excluding discounts and after-market rebates.

‘New important benefit’

AbbVie spokesperson Adelle Infante said that ICER’s data on its net pricing is inaccurate and called into question the group’s methodology.

Roche spokesperson Emmy Wang said that in pricing drugs, the company strives for the right balance between patient access and investing for breakthroughs in medicine.

Gilead, Biogen, Pfizer and Eli Lilly also questioned ICER’s analysis, methodology and conclusions, with Lilly spokesperson Mark Taylor noting that generic versions of Cialis were now available for up to 90 percent less than the retail price.

Amgen did not have an immediate comment.

ICER acknowledged it was difficult to determine the actual increase in spending on the drugs, but said it was confident that the seven drugs currently cost a lot more than they did just a few years ago.

Pricing drugs based on new benefits could help slow cost hikes, ICER Chief Medical Officer David Rind said.

“If manufacturers weren’t raising prices [when] they haven’t shown a new important benefit, I think that would help,” he said.

Celgene’s multiple myeloma drug Revlimid and Gilead’s HIV treatment Genvoya were also large contributors to spending but were excluded from the list because of their clinical advancements, ICER said.

Humira’s net price increase over 2017 and 2018 added $1.8bn in spending, while Rituxan added $806m, the report said.

Source : Reuters

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