The cost of a vital cancer drug has gone up 15-fold in four years after its new owner hiked prices on nine separate occasions.
The potentially life-saving medicine is used to treat patients suffering from brain tumours (glioblastomas) and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The price of the cancer drug lomustine has soared to nearly 1400% since 2013, after it was bought by a startup in Miami, U.S.
In 2013, production of the drug, which was previously called CeeNU, passed from pharma giant Bristol-Myers Squibb to a Miami-based startup called NextSource Biotechnology.
At that point it was being sold for around $50 (£37) per pill. The same dose now costs $768 (£570).
NextSource has increased the price nine times in less than five years. A 20% hike in August was followed by a further 12% rise in November, according to analysis by the Wall Street Journal. Prices of other doses of the drug, which the company has renamed Gleostine, have also been increased exponentially.
According to Henry S. Friedman, a professor of neurosurgery at Duke University School of Medicine, NextSource has engaged in “price-gouging”, telling the Wall Street Journal: “People are not going to be able to afford it, or they’re going to pay a lot of money and have financial liability.”
NextSource CEO Robert DiCrisci has justified the gargantuan price hikes by saying it sets the price based on the costs it incurs in developing the medication.
Andrea Gratzer from Denver, N.C. said her husband Gary, a patient at Duke, was prescribed Gleostine in September to treat a brain tumour. But a representative from a specialty pharmacy for their Medicare drug-benefit plan, EnvisionRx, told them the out-of-pocket costs would be $2,815 for a 30-day supply, the Wall Street Journal reported.
When Ms. Gratzer told her husband, he said that was too expensive. She called Duke, and a doctor changed the prescription to another drug, Temodar, that was more affordable.
“We really can’t afford the lomustine,” Ms. Gratzer said. “That was the drug of choice. He wouldn’t do it.”
This bears similarities to the massive price hike in the antiparasitic drug Daraprim by Martin Shkreli, former CEO of biotech firm Turing Pharmaceuticals. He raised its price from $13.5 to $750 per pill, earning him the title “most hated man in America”. But despite his unethical actions by preventing (poor) people from getting an affordable and necessary medication, he did not face punishment.
He was indicted for fraud, however, but as some have commented, this was because he harmed rich people, not poor people.
It is unlikely that NewSource will face any consequences.
Ambar is a Politics student at Kings College London. Her goal is to bring awareness to the important stories around the world, especially the ones that go unheard. She's appeared on the BBC, and is passionately involved with community organisation back home in Staffordshire.