Rising cancer drug costs add to patients’ financial burden

Global spending on cancer drugs exceeded $100 billion for the first time everlast year, creating growing concerns about the financial burden faced by cancer patients, according to a new report.

Innovative cancer drugs are helping to increase survival times but hefty price tags – often in excess of $100,000 a year – means that healthcare payers are starting to look more closely at the value they provide.

Partly as a result, says the report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, patient out-of-pocket costs in insurance-based markets such as the US have “risen steeply” and the financial burden of living with cancer is “a frequent topic of discussion on social media sites.”

Overall, monthly treatment costs for cancer have risen 39% over the last 10 years, although that has been accompanied by a 42% increase in overall response rates in the same period, according to IMS. Patients are however staying on therapy 45% longer, adding to the cost escalation.

Last year’s $100 billion spend has risen from $75 billion five years ago and was up more than 10 percent on 2103, with targeted cancer therapies now account for almost half of total spending, with the proportion is only expected to increase with the increased use of immuno-oncology drugs

Overall, cancer’s share of total drug spending has however increased only modestly, according to the report, which is entitled: Developments in cancer treatments, market dynamics, patient access and value.

Future spending on oncology medicines through 2018 is expected to be in the 6-8 percent range, compared to 6.5 percent over the past five years.

The increased costs also has to be placed in the context of an increase in survival rates, which have climbed steadily over the last 20 years with two-thirds of US patients with cancer now living for at least five years, compared to just over half in 1990.

“Existing cancer treatments are incrementally improving patient outcomes, while new drugs and combinations of drugs are emerging with the promise of more rapid and profound patient benefits,” says IMS.

However, while combining targeted therapies and immuno-oncology agents such as Merck & Co’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo (nivolumab) will further improve outcomes this will “complicate trial and commercialisation strategies.”

For instance, two companies may collaborate in jointly developing a combination with two molecules in one indication, but compete in other indications, notes the report.

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