Lower sticker prices don't make cancer meds more affordable in poor countries: Study


Researchers recently wrapped up one of the largest-ever analyses of discrepancies in cancer drug prices between countries. Their findings? Oncology meds aren’t necessarily more affordable in low-income countries--despite what their stickers may say.

After converting a monthly drug price into a stat that takes economies and living costs into account--as a percentage of domestic product per capita at purchasing power parity (GDPcapPPP)--cancer drugs look less affordable in poorer nations, according to pilot study results presented Monday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting. And there’s plenty of disparity in what different countries pay, too.

To make comparisons, researchers put retail prices for a group of 23 branded and generic cancer meds in 7 different countries--Australia, China, India, South Africa, the U.K., Israel and the U.S.--under the lens and calculated monthly doses for each.

While India boasted the lowest median monthly retail price at $1,515--the U.S. took home the title for highest at $8,694--cancer drugs appeared to be most affordable in Australia when accounting for a country’s ability to pay. There, monthly drug prices came in at 3% of GDPcapPPP for knockoff meds and 71% GDPcapPPP for patented meds.

By contrast, in India--which, along with China, earned the classification of “lowest ability to pay”--the cost of generics was 33% of GDPcapPPP and the cost of patented drugs registered at 313%.

There are some big caveats to the findings, though, lead study author Daniel Goldstein pointed out. Investigators couldn’t take discounts and rebates into account--factors that often go a long way in increasing affordability.

Still, he said, the study sets the stage for further research on the topic at a time when high drug prices--and in particular, high cancer drug prices--are attracting a fair share of negative attention. Patients, payers and even doctors have recently begun to take action to bring down sky-high costs, with some resorting to drastic measures--such as excluding certain drugs from treatment protocols, as leading hospital Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center did with Sanofi’s pricey Zaltrap back in 2012.

Meanwhile, others are working to develop tools to evaluate meds based on their value, and ASCO itself is among them. Last week, the influential organization rolled out a new version of its so-called “value framework,” and it plans to create a software tool that docs can use to help patients make treatment decisions, too.

- read the release

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