ICER unveils 'unsupported' costliest US drug price hikes

Seven drugs had price increases so steep that they cost health insurers and patients $5.1 billion over the course of two years, according to a new study by the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review.

The study, published Oct. 8, determined the top 100 best-selling drugs in the U.S. from the beginning of 2017 to the end of 2018 and used prescription data from SSR Health to find which of those drugs had a price increase more than twice the rate of medical inflation, taking rebates and other concessions into account.

Researchers found nine drugs whose price increases contributed the largest net increase in drug spending in the U.S. and looked for any evidence from the past three years to support the increases. Seven out of the nine drugs didn't have a clinical justification for a price increase.

The seven drugs with unsupported price increases, in order of the impact of their price increase on drug spending:

  1. AbbVie's Humira, a rheumatoid arthritis treatment. The price increased 15.9 percent and cost the U.S. an extra $1.86 billion in drug costs.

  2. Genentech's Rituxan, a treatment for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, granulomatosis with polyangiitis and microscopic polyangiitis.The price increased by 23.6 percent and added $806 million in drug costs.

  3. Pfizer's Lyrica, a painkiller. The price increased by 22.2 percent and cost an extra $688 million in drug costs.

  4. Gilead's Truvada, an HIV prevention pill. The price increased by 23.1 percent and cost an extra $550 million in drug costs.

  5. Amgen's Neulasta, a white blood cell booster for cancer patients. The price increased by 13.4 percent and cost an extra $489 million in drug costs.

  6. Eli Lilly's Cialis, an impotence or erectile dysfunction treatment. The price increased 26.2 percent and cost an extra $403 million in drug costs.

  7. Biogen's Tecfidera, a multiple sclerosis pill. The price increased 9.8 percent and cost an extra $313 million in drug costs.

"We took the position that if a drug has this sort of impact [on spending] in the U.S. because prices increase substantially, then it should have new evidence to justify that. But these seven drugs didn't," David Rind, MD, ICER's CMO told STAT.

The two drugs with justifiable price increases were Celegene's Revlimid and Gilead's Genovya, though the researchers explicitly noted that the clinical evidence doesn't mean the level of the price increase is justified.

Several drugmakers wrote to STAT disputing the research, claiming it was flawed and excluded or ignored important factors that could cause a drug price increase. A spokesperson from Genentech wrote that the study was "significantly limited because it excludes meaningful, high-quality, and peer-reviewed evidence supporting the clinical and economic benefits of Rituxan."

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