Specialty drugs getting more costly

We all know specialty meds are expensive, and that they're getting more expensive, too. But now we know how much--and it's triple the inflation rate, a full percentage point higher than the rise in overall drug costs. That's according to a new AARP report based on prices of more than 140 specialty drugs Medicare beneficiaries often use. The actual percentage increase in 2007 was 8.7 percent, compared with 7.4 percent for drugs in general. In 2004, the increase in specialty drug prices amount to around 5 percent.

Drugmakers blame the high price tags on the cost of R&D and on the cost of the complex manufacturing processes required to make these complex meds. Plus, the number of patients who'll use specialty meds is smaller than the number who take, say, a cholesterol-lowering statin drug. So that means companies can't make it up on volume.

But as AARP says, the high cost can price some patients out of treatment. "[E]ven the most miraculous drug is useless if a person can't afford to take it," an AARP executive VP told Pharmalot.

AARP plans to use its survey to lobby lawmakers for a mechanism to get generic biotech drugs--or follow-on versions--onto the market. And that's another thorny debate.

- here's the release
- check out the item at the Wall Street Journal Health Blog
- read the Pharmalot post