With Revlimid and Pomalyst price increases, could Celgene be next on Trump’s to-call list?

Drug prices
Celgene's Revlimid and Pomalyst, Roche's Avastin and Herceptin, and Novo's Victoza and Ozempic saw their prices go up in July. (Getty/Charles Wollertz)

After public scrutiny and a phone call, President Donald Trump convinced Pfizer to at least defer its drug increases. But not all companies have flinched at the president’s “We will respond” threat, including makers of some of the world’s best-selling drugs.

Celgene increased the prices of two blockbuster cancer meds Revlimid and Pomalyst by 5% this month, according to SunTrust analysts. Roche raised the price of breast cancer drug Herceptin by 3%, and Avastin by 2.5%, Bloomberg reports. Novo Nordisk’s Tresiba, Levemir, Fiasp and NovoLog saw their prices up by 5%, while GLP-1 receptor agonists Victoza’s and Ozempic’s jumped 7.9% in the same period, the diabetes specialist unveiled Wednesday.

While drugmakers are not raising prices at the same rate as some have in the past, they still fly in the face of the president's threat. 

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In a statement to FiercePharma, a Celgene spokesman said the company made the increases “at less than the rate of anticipated U.S. healthcare spending growth for the year,” in line with CEO Mark Alles’ recent pledge.

A Roche spokeswoman, confirming those increases, said the company considers several factors when making decisions on drug prices, including “how well the medicine works and how it compares to other available treatments; the financial resources required to continue discovering new medicines for people with serious diseases; and how to ensure that the price doesn’t prevent our medicines getting to people who need them.”

Novo said in its notification Wednesday that the price increases “reflect the value our medicines offer in diabetes care and the current market dynamics to make sure patients' insurance plans provide access to our medicines.” A Novo media aide told FiercePharma the company does intend to keep annual price increases within the 10% limit pledged in 2016.

Still, the timing of the latest round comes at a delicate time, as both the Trump administration and lawmakers have been criticizing high-rising drug prices in the U.S. Not to mention Pfizer’s Wednesday decision to bow to the government’s pressure and back down from its July increases after Trump called CEO Ian Read and swore to take action on those who raise prices without cause.

RELATED: Pfizer’s bow to Trump won’t just hit its own prices—it’ll put a chill on hikes, period

For Celgene, it comes right after CEO Mark Alles committed to limit the price increase of any medicine in its portfolio to only once a year, and at a level no greater than the projected growth in the U.S. healthcare expenditures. The current price increases are below the 5.3% rate predicted for this year, and also mean that Celgene has probably used up its annual quota for those two drugs.

But Alles’ statement also opened up room for exceptions where additional clinical or health economic evidence could support new increases. According to a Celgene spokesman, that is not on the company’s agenda, at least for now. “No further pricing actions for these or any of our other FDA-approved medicines are anticipated this year,” he said in a statement.

Price hikes aren’t a new tactic Celgene’s just adopted. In a Thursday note to investors, SunTrust analysts noted that the average yearly price increases Celgene had taken on those two multiple myeloma drugs in the U.S. are in the 10%-11% range over the last five years.

The U.S. big biotech raised eyebrows last year when it jacked up the price of Revlimid three times to an accumulative 19.8%, and the price on Pomalyst twice to reach a 17.7% jump. Revlimid’s $8.18 billion and Pomalyst’s $1.16 billion in 2017 sales represent a 17% and 23% jump, respectively. The company also admitted that price hikes boosted the company’s top line by 3.3% last year.

RELATED: Celgene pledges to limit price hikes—or does it?

“[C]ontinued price increases in the U.S. (vs. continued price reductions ex-U.S.) on Celgene's part could also bring CELG into the limelight (unfavorably),” SunTrust analysts wrote in their note.

Celgene, however, isn’t the only one who could put Trump’s typical Twitter fury to test. Goldman Sachs analyst Jami Rubin noted in a Wednesday note that Roche and Novo are the only other large-cap biopharma companies with a second price increase this year.

On July 3, Novo raised the price of some insulin products by 5%, and the price of its GLP-1 stars Victoza and Ozempic by 7.9%. The Novo spokeswoman noted that Tresiba and Levemir had a previous 4% increase this January, while the last increases for NovoLog, NovoLog Mix and Victoza happened over a year ago. Roche, for its part, increased cancer med Herceptin’s price by 3%, and Avastin’s by 2.5% in July, even though both drugs now face FDA-approved biosimilars.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with additional comment from Novo Nordisk.