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.

67 comments

Brian F
Brian F18 days ago

Rhoberta E How can you defend corrupt politicians like Cory Booker and Patty Murray, who took $300,000 each, as a bribe from big pharma, and along with 10 other Democratic traitors voted against a Sanders/Klobachar bill to lower prescription drug prices, when we pay the most in the world for prescription drugs? Big pharma owns are criminal politicians and you don't care? Please get some psychiatric help.

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Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E19 days ago

brian f
Aren't you sick and tired of playing the blame game.??? No, silly question. You just use this topic as well to bully and blame just like every post. Grow up, brian and tell us what YOU do to help change your system.
I have a brother who lives in the US and of course I worry about what happens to ALL citizens fighting this unfair system.
You would blame dog rescue on the same politicians you list here and cry because your hero Ms. Stein hasn't a hope in heck of being elected.
You make everything bad and ugly don't you
YOU just whine.

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Brian F
Brian F20 days ago

Rhoberta E So you got cheaper medications than we do because you can negotiate the price. We can't do that thanks to Democrats Cory Booker, Patty Murray and 10 other Democratic traitors who voted against a Sanders/Klobachar bill to lower prescription drug prices. Cory Booker and Patty Murray got paid $300,000 each by big pharma, so our Democratic party is bought by big pharma like the Republicans. But you don't care. If the Democrats supported slavery, you'd support them.

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Lee Juslin
Lee Juslin21 days ago

This is beyond cruel. The greed of large corporations and the 1% in the USA is breathtaking. SHAME

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Jerome S
Jerome S21 days ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S21 days ago

thanks

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Winn A
Winn A21 days ago

:-(

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Jim V
Jim Ven21 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim V
Jim Ven21 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Danuta W
Danuta W21 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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