As drug pricing chatter gains steam once again in Washington, D.C., pharma companies have been quietly raising prices on dozens of drugs behind the scenes.
So far this month, pharma companies large and small have driven up prices on 65 drugs, mostly brand name, by an average of 3.5%, according to GoodRx’s counting. That’s double the count from just two weeks ago and just shy of the July 2020 tally.
While smaller drugmakers dealing in rare disorders dominated the initial price jumps to start the month, a sprinkle of big pharma players such as Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Sanofi, AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis and AbbVie have also gotten involved. Many of the price hikes are in the low single-digit percentages.
Sanofi and Bristol, for instance, raised prices on four medicines each by 1.5% to 2.5%, including a slight bump for Bristol’s blockbuster checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo. Meanwhile, Takeda upped the charge for its leukemia therapy Iclusig by 4%.
AbbVie’s subsidiary Allergan increased the cost of its blockbuster wrinkle treatment Botox by 3.6%. To a surprise to some analysts, Botox has already made a strong bounce back from a slight pandemic slump.
Topping the price-hike list by far is Aytu Biopharma’s oral insomnia spray Zolpimist, which saw a July price hike by nearly 16%. That medicine overtook Zogenix’s 9.5% increase for its rare childhood epilepsy drug Fintepla, which now sits in second.
Not far behind in the rankings is Acadia Pharmaceuticals’ Nuplazid to treat Parkinson's-related hallucinations and delusions. Further down the list sits Jazz Pharmaceuticals, which bumped the price for two of its drugs, Zepzelca and Defitelio, by 4% and 3%, respectively.
Compared with January, July is typically a slower month when it comes to price increases. Earlier this year, companies increased the cost of drugs by an average of 4.5% on more than 800 drugs, according to GoodRx's tally.
But despite the global coronavirus pandemic, drugmakers haven’t shied away from upping their prices. During this time in 2019, GoodRx only found 37 drugs with higher price tags.
“We were expecting the best and expecting that maybe during a pandemic we’d see fewer price increases,” Tori Marsh, GoodRx’s director of research, said in an interview. “Nothing surprises me anymore with pricing.”
Some drugs on the list already grew in price earlier this year. For instance, Recordati had raised the price of Isturisa, approved to treat Cushing’s disease, by 9% in January. The company kicked off July with another 5% hike, GoodRx reports.
While it wasn’t uncommon for pharma companies to raise prices twice per year, many drugmakers moved to a once-per-year schedule in recent years amid scrutiny.
Some may argue that since these are list prices and don’t include discounts and patient assistance programs, they won’t mean anything for patients at the pharmacy counter, Marsh said. But the people who will feel pain in their wallets will be financially vulnerable patients with high deductibles or those with no insurance, she argued.
“They’re really going to be feeling the impact of these increases,” Marsh said.