Skip Navigation LinksHome > April 21, 2011 - Volume 11 - Issue 8 > Skyrocketing MS Drug Prices Hit Patients Hard, Prompting Com...
< Previous Article | Next Article >
21 April 2011 - Volume 11 - Issue 8 - pp 1,19,23
Skyrocketing MS Drug Prices Hit Patients Hard, Prompting Compliance Problems
Back to Top | Article Outline
ARTICLE IN BRIEF
Neurologists are experiencing the fallout from the steep rise in the cost of MS drugs: Many patients are finding it difficult to comply with their therapy regimen. Among solutions, they recommend governmental intervention in negotiating prices.
AS NEWER, MORE EXPEN...
AS NEWER, MORE EXPEN...
When the first oral drug for multiple sclerosis, fingolimod (Gilenya), first entered the market last fall, neurologists and patients alike experienced sticker shock: the medication was priced at a jaw-dropping $48,000 a year. But, some pointed out, it was the first drug of its kind, with no direct competitors. Perhaps it shouldn‘t be surprising that it came at a premium.
And then the price hikes for other MS drugs followed. Teva's glatiramer (Copaxone) now comes at a rack rate of over $42,000 per year — a jump of nearly 40 percent over prices at the beginning of 2010. Biogen has also raised prices further for both natalizumab (Tysabri) and interferon-beta-1a (Avonex).
Why should older drugs — whose existing prices, one assumes, were already set to cover the costs of bringing the drugs to market in the first place — get a price increase when a new drug comes to market?
Companies want to get the most out of their investment, said Edward Fox, MD, PhD, clinical associate professor of neurology at the University of Texas Medical Branch and director of the MS Clinic of Central Texas. “With the onset of new medications that come at a premium, companies have raised the price of older medications in order not to appear inferior to the new drugs. They look at the price as being meaningful when it comes to expectations. If a certain drug is priced lowest, it must be less worthy somehow.”
Of course, virtually no patients are paying out of pocket the full listed price for these costly medications. “I have 1,400 MS patients and I don‘t have single patient paying full price. I can‘t even conceive of someone with a salary high enough where that would be a consideration,” Dr. Fox said.
But the price increases are still driving more and more people with MS and their families into desperate situations. That's because as the prices paid by third-party insurers have gone up, so too have patients‘ copays and other shared costs. “On a weekly basis, I‘m dealing with patients who have what I would call a medication crisis,” Dr. Fox said. “Many of my patients have copays of between $300 and $800 a month. There aren‘t too many families who can easily absorb that cost.”
Bruce A. Cohen, MD, professor of neurology and director of the Comprehensive Multiple Sclerosis Program at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said that he has a number of patients who are making treatment decisions based primarily on cost.
But that's getting harder and harder to do, said Dr. Fox: “It's become an across the board situation where all of the MS medications are so expensive that you can‘t just switch to a less costly alternative.”