High Price of Cancer Drugs 'One of Biggest Issues in Healthcare'

Zosia Chustecka

May 23, 2013

In This Article

High Prices Harming Patients

These high drug prices are harming cancer patients, the experts warn in their paper. Dr. Kantarjian cited survival data for CML patients as evidence of this. In Sweden, where drug therapy is supplied to patients at no cost, the 10-year survival rates are 80%. In contrast, in the United States, where CML patients have to pay a proportion of the drug costs, leading some to discontinue treatment, the 5-year survival rate is only 60%, he noted.

The situation in other countries is even worse: worldwide, only 20% to 30% of all CML patients are taking these drugs; the rest cannot afford them, he said.

In many emerging countries, governments cannot afford these drugs, and so the front-line treatment for CML is stem cell transplantation, which is not suitable for all patients and which is associated with early mortality and long-term morbidity, the experts point out in their paper.

In their paper, the experts compare the price of CML drugs in different countries around the world — something that has not been done before. Dr. Lӧwenberg said he found it "quite stunning" that there is so much variation in the price of the same drug around the world, and that it was "so unpredictable."

"This is not information that the industry is happy to have out there," Dr. Kantarjian noted, because "it starts a discussion as to why the prices are higher in one country than another."

Table. Estimated Annual Cost of CML Drugs by Country (in US Dollars)

Country Imatinib Nilotinib Dasatinib
Argentina 52,000 73,500 80,000
Australia 46,500 53,500 60,000
Canada 46,500 48,000 62,500
China 46,500 75,000 61,500
Germany 54,000 60,000 90,000
Japan 43,000 55,000 72,000
Mexico 29,000 39,000 49,500
Norway 50,500 61,000 82,500
Russia 24,000 48,500 56,500
South Korea 28,500 26,000 22,000
United Kingdom 33,500 33,500 48,500
United States 92,000 115,500 123,500


It is clear from this comparison that the cost of these CML drugs is 50% to 100% higher in the United States than anywhere else in the world. In fact, because "many of these drugs were developed in the United States using taxpayers' money, it is like we are paying twice," Dr. Kantarjian noted.

"We have to make sure that a patient with CML in the United States is not penalized just for being in the United States as opposed to, say, Korea, where the prices for the same CML drugs are about a third of what they are here," he said.

In the United States, medical costs have become a top cause of bankruptcy, and cancer is often the reason, he noted. A recent study found that the rate of bankruptcy among those with a cancer diagnosis is double that of the rate in the general population.


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