$100,000 a Year Drugs

Gleevec, a cancer drug often used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia, costs above $100,000 a year. Now over 100 specialists from 15 countries specializing in this cancer have written Novartis, the drug’s manufacturer and other pharmaceuticals, in an attempt to persuade them to bring the cost down. They put forth the idea that such a high price for a drug to keep someone alive is profiteering, and liken that to huge price increases after a disaster. The doctors point out that in 2001 when Gleevec first went on the market, it cost $30,000 a year, and that now that it has more than tripled in price, there are other drugs which can compete with it but which are even more expensive. Before she died unexpectedly in an accident, my sister, who had rheumatoid arthritis, was being watched for this cancer. Her co-pay for her RA drugs was already $1000 a month and I used to wonder how we would manage when or if the cancer would manifest itself. It’s therefore easy for me to translate these prices into family situations and tragedies. There is an estimated 1.2 to 1.5 million people in the world with this cancer. Novartis’s answer was that it has given the drug free to 5000 uninsured or under insured people and provided 50,000 with free drugs in low income countries. Seems a drop in the bucket especially given that Gleevec’s sales of $4.7 billion in 2012 was Novartis’s best selling drug. It’s going to take a lot more than a letter from 100 doctors (including one who helped develop Gleevec) to solve the problem, but it is a hopeful beginning.