New orally administered cancer drugs have dramatically increased in price compared with drugs launched 15 years ago.1

A month of treatment with the newest cancer drugs, based on those introduced in 2014, was 6 times more expensive at launch than cancer drugs introduced in 2000, after adjusting for inflation. Oral cancer drugs approved in 2000 cost an average of $1869/month compared with $11 325/month for those approved in 2014.

“The major trend here is that these products are just getting more expensive over time,” said Stacie Dusetzina, PhD, at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, and study author. She is also a UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center member, and an assistant professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

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The past decade has seen a push to develop orally administered cancer drugs. However, Dusetzina said that the high prices may be increasingly passed along to the patient. This potentially affects a patient’s access to the drug and their ability to use it.

The researchers use imatinib (Gleevac) as an example of the increases seen in monthly costs for oral drugs. From its launch, in 2001, to 2014, the price increased from $3346 to $8479, an average annual change of 7.5%.

“Patients are increasingly taking on the burden of paying for these high-cost specialty drugs as plans move toward use of higher deductibles and co-insurance, where a patient will pay a percentage of the drug cost rather than a flat copay,” Dusetzina said.

In her work, Dusetzina used the TruvenHealth MarketScan Commercial Claims and Encounters database to analyze what commercial health insurance companies and patients paid for prescription fills before rebates and discounts for orally administered cancer drugs from 2000 to 2014.

The study accounted for payments by commercial health plans but not for spending for Medicaid and Medicare, and it only included products that were dispensed and reimbursed by commercial health plans, which may have excluded rarely used or recently approved products.


1. Dusetzina SB. Drug pricing trends for orally administered anticancer medications reimbursed by commercial health plans, 2000-2014 [published online ahead of print April 28, 2016]. JAMA Oncol. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.0648.