Lilly's price for Portrazza way too high for its limited benefit in lung cancer, doctors say

There is more backlash to the high price of a drug in the U.S. This time it is from doctors who contend the price tag Eli Lilly ($LLY) put on its newly approved lung cancer drug Portrazza is too high for a med that extends life expectancy by only weeks and then only for about half the patients treated with it. In fact, they suggest it is about $9,600 a month too high.

Lilly Friday priced Portrazza at $11,430 a patient a month. It was approved in November for treatment of squamous non-small cell lung cancer for patients whose disease has spread elsewhere in the body. In trials, about half the patients taking it lived a median of 6 weeks to 7 weeks longer than those not taking it. It is a price that Lilly defended to The Wall Street Journal as fair.

The paper questioning the drug's price was actually published in JAMA Oncology in August, ahead of its approval. In it, doctors from Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology laid out what they considered a cost effective price. They said $1,870 for a 30-day regimen is more in line with its value when compared to the generics that are now the standard of care.

After Lilly put its price on the drug, Dr. Daniel Goldstein, co-author of the paper, told the WSJ that Portrazza's price is out of line. "I don't think we should be paying high prices for a drug that only provides a very minimal level of benefit," said Dr. Goldstein, an adjunct assistant professor at Emory in Atlanta and a senior physician at Rabin Medical Center in Israel.

But Lilly takes issue with the contention that Portrazza's benefit is minimal. A spokeswoman told the newspaper that Portrazza "is worth more to society than a slight premium" to the older generic drugs that the doctors cited in their paper because it provides an option for doctors treating patients who have few.

That was also what FDA reviewers noted when they recommended that the FDA approve the drug. Despite the treatment's limited effect, a panel of FDA advisers largely supported Portrazza's approval at a July meeting, pointing out that oncologists want options. They said that for patients with particularly advanced disease, a chance for even a modest benefit is worth it.

Still, the JAMA paper comes as the industry is meeting mounting resistance to ever-growing drug prices. Cancer doctors have been particularly vocal. More than 100 doctors signed onto an editorial urging patients to talk to their elected officials about reforms to bring down the cost of cancer treatments. Some suggested reforms that up to now have seemed highly unlikely to occur, such as allowing patients to buy their drugs from countries with lower prices. But that is a suggestion that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has incorporated in her plan to attack high drug prices.

Separately, a coalition of cancer groups is putting together info ranking costs and effectiveness of different treatments so patients and doctors can at least make informed decisions on treatments and their costs.

- read the Wall Street Journal story (sub. req.)