Physician advocates call for price reduction for leukaemia therapies

In a commentary published Thursday in the journal Blood, a cohort of more than 100 cancer specialists from more than 15 countries said that the prices of drugs used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) are "unsustainable" and akin to "profiteering." The authors argue for the need to lower the prices of the therapies, and tyrosine kinase inhibitors in particular, in order to allow more patients to afford them and to maintain "sound long-term healthcare policies."

Of the 12 medications approved by the FDA in 2012 for various cancer indications, 11 cost more than $100,000 annually, the article noted. The specialists said that although the costs of drugs for many cancers are just as high, they focused on those used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia, such as Novartis Gleevec (imatinib).

"If you are making $3 billion a year on Gleevec, could you get by with $2 billion?" noted one co-author Brian Druker, who was academic developer of Novartis' Gleevec, adding that "when do you cross the line from essential profits to profiteering?" However, Novartis said that its investment in the drug continued after the initial approval, expanding its use to other indications, adding that the company provides Gleevec or Tasigna (nilotinib) free to 5 000 uninsured or underinsured patients in the US each year.

Pfizer, who gained FDA approval for Bosulif (bosutinib) in September last year, helps financially eligible patients get their prescriptions for free or at a savings, and insured patients pay no more than $50 a month, said company spokeswoman Victoria Davis.

However, the article noted that despite drug company programmes, a minority of the estimated 1.2 million to 1.5 million people in the world with CML are receiving one of the available drugs. Additionally, the commentary said the survival rate for patients in the US appeared to be lower than it should be and perhaps costs, which are twice as high as in many other countries, are forcing patients to not take their drugs.

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