You’d hope that life-saving cancer drugs would be accessible to everyone. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In the past four years, the price of a vital cancer drug in the US has risen by 1,400 percent, making it unaffordable to many who need it.
Lomustine, named Gleostine by its new owners, is a type of chemotherapy drug that is taken in capsules by patients at home. It has been used for over 40 years to treat a variety of different cancers, such as brain tumors, lung cancer, melanomas, and lymphoma.
Four years ago, the drug was produced by the pharma company Bristol-Myers Squibb. However, in 2013, it was bought by a Miami-based startup called NextSource Biotechnology.
Prior to this, a capsule of Lomustine cost about $50. Now it costs $768. According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, in the past four years, the price of the drug has been ramped up 15-fold, or by 1,400 percent.
“This is simply price gouging,” Henry Friedman, a neuro-oncologist from Duke University, told The Independent. “People are not going to be able to afford it, or they’re going to pay a lot of money and have financial liability.”
Robert DiCrisci, chief executive of NextSource, said that that the pricing is simply based on development costs, regulatory fees, and the benefit the drug provides. He also said that poorer people and those without healthcare are given a discount, although it is unclear how large this discount is.
Interestingly, the patent on Lomustine, which prevented other versions being made, has now expired, meaning that other companies could produce the drug. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently trying to encourage manufacturers to make replicas of drugs that no longer have patents, in the hope they will sell them at a more reasonable price.
After all, it’s not just Lomustine that has suffered a ridiculous price increase in recent times. Earlier this year, West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, the American branch of drug company Hikma, elevated the prices of six drugs by between 75 and 430 percent. These drugs are used to treat a variety of conditions, from inflammation and diarrhea to heart failure and bipolar disorder.
Drug companies in America can set their prices however they choose, and the government does nothing to control this. Therefore, as with anything, consumers must pay the price determined by their medication’s distributor, leaving the most vulnerable in society to choose between saving their money and saving their health. A choice no one should have to make.
Issues like this make Trump’s animosity towards the Affordable Care Act feel all the more questionable. For now, let’s hope that pharmaceutical companies begin to make generic versions of expensive drugs like Lomustine, and sell them at a cheaper price.