Japan cuts prices on BMS and Ono's Opdivo, Merck's Keytruda: report

Japan is slashing the price on two top-selling cancer meds. (Pixabay)

As policymakers in the U.S. debate strategies to manage high drug costs, officials in Japan have moved to swiftly cut the price on two top-selling cancer meds. 

The government plans to cut the price of Opdivo, marketed there by Ono Pharmaceuticals, by 23.8% starting in April, according to the wire service Jiji Press. Additionally, Merck's Keytruda will get a 11.2% cut, according to the service. 

Opdivo's price cut follows another last year, when the country halved the price of the immuno-oncology blockbuster. At the time, growing costs forced officials to make the unusual move of changing the med's price ahead of a regularly scheduled review in 2018. 

Typically, prices for meds are reviewed every other year in Japan. But after an initial approval in melanoma, new nods for non-small cell lung cancer and renal cell carcinoma have led to much more use of the blockbuster. 

After the newest cut, Opdivo will cost ¥278,000 per 100 milligrams, or about $2,621 at current exchange rates. According to the drug pricing website GoodRx, Opdivo costs around $5,200 in the U.S. for two 100 milligram vials. 

Officials in Japan, one of the world's largest drug markets, have also been pushing to limit spending on pharmaceuticals by expanding generic use. According to Jiji, generics currently hold 65.8% market share, short of an 80% goal by 2020. But the government is already near meeting a goal to reduce medical spending by ¥1.3 trillion ($12.27 billion), the service reports. 

The country's price cuts have irked the drug industry in the past. At the time of the last Opdivo cut, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations called the move a "major departure from the current rules" and said it "should never be repeated."