Doctors Call Out Cancer Drug ‘Price Gouging’

Doctors are crying foul after a Miami based start-up bought the license to a 40-year-old cancer drug and increased the price 15-fold, with critics saying this yet again illustrates something deeply flawed about the pharmaceutical industry.

Known as Lomustine, the chemotherapy drug has been used to treat various cancers, from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, certain lung cancers and brain tumors. It is a single-dose treatment usually given every six to eight weeks in pill form and may be administered alongside surgery, radiotherapy or may be given with other chemotherapy drugs. 

The drug, formally known on the market as CeeNU, was acquired by startup NextSource Biotechnology in 2013. The drug’s patent has expired but, as is the case for many cancer drugs, no generic version is available on the market. This means that NextSource has been able to set the market price. Since acquisition, the price of the drug has gone up from $50 per capsule to $768 per capsule.

The Independent reports:

NextSource has increased the price nine times in less than five years. A 20 per cent hike in August was followed by a further 12 per cent rise in November, according to analysis by the Wall Street Journal. Prices of other doses of the drug, which the company has renamed Gleostine, have also been increased exponentially.

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Professor Henry Friedman, a neuro-oncologist at Duke University, said: “This is simply price gouging. People are not going to be able to afford it, or they’re going to pay a lot of money and have financial liability.”

However, NextSource Biotechnology has hit back, saying in a statement that the price rise reflects “development costs, regulatory agency fees, class of product, benefit the treatment delivers to patients, and other determinants.”

It specifically details that the cost of raw materials for the drug have “increased substantially” and appears to lay the blame for some of its price increases on supplying the drug to Medicaid at vastly reduced costs, together with FDA annual licensing fees which it says have “quadrupled over the past three years.” The company also highlights that when compared to the small group of other drugs that are currently approved by the FDA for treating glioblastoma brain tumors, the price for their renamed Gleostine drug is actually lower than many of those competitors.

It certainly is true that the price of many key drugs have risen significantly in the past decade. Many will remember the now disgraced Martin Shkreli’s tone-deaf defense of Turing Pharmaceuticals Darprim rise in 2015 where the drug went up from $13.50 to $750 per pill. This price hike was particularly injurious because, though the drug itself is not a front-line treatment, it is relied upon by many people with compromised immune systems, including pregnant women and people with HIV.

In the same way, the rise on Gleostine is being perceived as yet another hit for cancer patients, a group that are seeing soaring costs on other drugs. As CBS notes, “Novartis (NVS), 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 (GILD) called Yescarta costs $373,000.” 

While drug companies may contend that these kinds of price hikes are not impacting customers because insurers will cover it, stories of patients facing delays in getting these key drugs are popping up as insurers wrangle over costs. As such, even if patients do not directly bare the brunt of these costs, their treatment can still be impacted. 

Critics of the industry say that this is yet another example not of one particular rogue company but of a system that is failing patients by allowing economic markets to dictate treatment availability.

The U.S. Senate is currently in the middle of a protracted investigation into the industry’s drug pricing, with the FDA’s commissioner, Scott Gottleib, saying in October that drug price hikes constitute a public health concern.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

77 comments

JoAnn P
JoAnn Paris3 days ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

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hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN h15 days ago

tyfs

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Peggy B
Peggy B23 days ago

TYFS

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Debbi W
Debbi W23 days ago

That is so hearatless, cruel, sociopathic. Next Source Biotechnology sounds like a republican owned company with no regard for life. Since the greedy have no social conscience, we need governmental controls in place. It isn't as if cancer patient can just stop buy their drugs to lower prices. I hope there will be immunotherapy medications for every type of cancer, SOON.

Brian F., find a new hobby. Your regurgitating same old arguments are old and based on lies.

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Lisa M
Lisa M24 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M24 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M24 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M24 days ago

Thanks.

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Carole R
Carole Rabout a month ago

This is a disgrace. I'm glad some doctors are standing up to the greed.

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Marie W
Marie W3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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