We have good news, and bad news.
The good news is that researchers have determined that an anti-cancer drug, Imbruvica (ibrutinib), was just as effective, with fewer side effects, at lower doses.
It would also save money for patients, or it would have if the drug maker had not tripled the cost of the drug in response:
A group of cancer doctors focused on bringing down the cost of treatments by testing whether lower — and cheaper — doses are effective thought they had found a prime candidate in a blood cancer drug called Imbruvica that typically costs $148,000 a year.
The science behind Imbruvica suggested that it could work at lower doses, and early clinical evidence indicated that patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia might do just as well on one or two pills a day after completing an initial round of treatment at three pills per day.
The researchers at the Value in Cancer Care Consortium, a nonprofit focused on cutting treatment costs for some of the most expensive drugs, set out to test whether the lower dose was just as effective — and could save patients money.
Then they learned of a new pricing strategy by Janssen and Pharmacyclics, the companies that sell Imbruvica through a partnership. Within the next three months, the companies will stop making the original 140-milligram capsule, a spokeswoman confirmed. They will instead offer tablets in four strengths — each of which has the same flat price of about $400, or triple the original cost of the pill.
Just as scientific momentum was building to test the effectiveness of lower doses, the new pricing scheme ensures dose reductions won’t save patients money or erode companies’ revenue from selling the drug. In fact, patients who had been doing well on a low dose of the drug would now pay more for their treatment. Those who stay on the dose equivalent to three pills a day won’t see a change in price.
“That got us kind of p—ed off,” said Mark J. Ratain, an oncologist at the University of Chicago Medicine who wrote about the issue in the Cancer Letter, a publication read by oncologists. “We were just in the early stages of planning [a clinical trial] and getting it organized, and thinking about sample size and funding, and we caught wind of what the company was doing.”
Pharma execs are, “A bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.”
I’m just saying.