Celgene takes its most aggressive price hikes yet on Revlimid, Pomalyst: analyst

Defying critics in Congress and elsewhere, Celgene hiked the list prices of key cancer meds Revlimid and Pomalyst by 9% this month, taking their cumulative increases for the year to nearly double the range that many Big Pharma peers have pledged to avoid. 

So far this year, Celgene has raised the price of Revlimid three times, taking the drug's list price up 19.8% year to date, according to a note from SunTrust analyst Yatin Suneja. The drugmaker hauled in nearly $7 billion around the world last year with the med that treats multiple myeloma, mantle cell lymphoma and myelodysplastic syndromes.  

The company has also raised prices on Pomalyst twice so far in 2017, amounting to a 17.7% jump year to date, Suneja wrote. The multiple myeloma drug brought in $1.3 billion last year. 

Together, the new hikes should generate about $80 million in sales for 2017, according to the analyst. They're the highest single increases Celgene has taken on those two meds, Suneja reports. 

But the moves come during a tough period for pharma's reputation, during which lawmakers and the U.S. public have blasted the industry's pricing and pushed for regulatory reform. Instead, no action has happened on the national level, and some states are taking the issue into their own hands.  

In a statement, a Celgene spokesperson said the company's "pricing decisions reflect the benefits that our innovative therapies provide to patients, the healthcare system and society." Celgene says the value of its drugs "continue to increase, supported by the growing clinical and real-world outcomes for patients in the approved indications."  

Further, the healthcare system could get future value from the company's spending on R&D programs, the spokesperson said. 

The price hikes came the same day as Celgene's announcement of a big trial failure in Crohn's disease on a med it purchased for $710 million. On Tuesday, patient and advocate David Mitchell told FiercePharma he believes the company took the hikes to "plug the hole" created by the trial failure, going to patients and taxpayers for more money.

He said Revlimid is a "good drug and it works, but there is absolutely no justification for this price increase. … It's infuriating."  

Suneja reports that since launch, Revlimid has nearly doubled in list price, to $18,546 for a 28-count bottle from $9,853 when it came out in December 2010. For a 21-count bottle of Pomalyst, prices have grown to $15,833 now, from $10,445 in February 2013, according to the analyst's data, which come from a SunTrust analysis and from third-party group Wolters Kluwer PriceRx. All of the prices are before negotiated rebates and discounts.

RELATED: Has the Brent Saunders price-hike limit become a de facto pharma rule? 

Even before the latest hikes, Celgene was facing criticism on Revlimid pricing. In June, Mitchell, founder of nonprofit Patients for Affordable Drugs, sued the drugmaker after seeing his copay rise from $42 for a four-week supply to $250 over several years. He said the company abused laws to block competitors from developing generics that would have provided cost relief. 

With the new pricing decision, the company doesn’t seem to be taking stock in a single-digit hike limit proposed by Allergan CEO Brent Saunders last year. In touting pharma's "social contract," Saunders said his company would limit increases to under 10%, prompting many other drugmakers to follow in his steps. Other drugmakers including AbbVie, Takeda, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi followed up with commitments of their own.