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Big business with cancer drugs

Big business with cancer drugs



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Cancer drug costs in Germany are extremely high and rising
Are pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of the needs of cancer patients and bringing their medicines onto the market at exorbitant prices? The current Barmer Drug Report 2017 shows that the cost of cancer drugs is exploding. The increase in costs cannot be explained by the increased number of people affected, the health insurance company said. Spending on oncological medicines in outpatient care for the Barmer insured has increased by as much as 41 percent since 2011.

According to the Barmer, the cost increases for cancer drugs clearly exceed those of all other drugs (without prescriptions). These grew by only around 20 percent in the same period. This gives the impression that the pharmaceutical companies are inappropriately enriching themselves with the drugs for cancer patients. A suspicion that is confirmed in several places in the current Barmer drug report.

Germany tops the cost of cancer medication
The authors of the report specifically compared the costs of 31 cancer drugs in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Germany is the unpleasant front-runner here. For 90 percent (28 out of 31) the prices were above the median, eight of the 31 cancer drugs even cost the most in Germany, reports the health insurance. The price of cancer drugs in Germany had been rising for years.

High-revenue cancer drug business
While in the nineties the cost of drugs for a typical chemotherapy in the first phase of therapy was still a few thousand euros, according to the Barmer, ten years later a few tens of thousands of euros were already common and today in many cases the order of magnitude is hundreds of euros and more reached. For example, in the case of drug treatment for patients with skin cancer, the therapy costs would have increased almost eightfold in five years. Five of the ten drugs with the currently largest sales increase are used to treat tumor diseases, reports the Barmer.

Approval as an orphan drug
"The goal of the pharmaceutical manufacturers is maximum sales, our goal is a realistic price-performance ratio in the interests of patients and contributors," emphasizes Professor Dr. Christoph Straub, CEO of Barmer. Fair prices are also important when it comes to cancer drugs, "however beneficial many of them are". Furthermore, the Barmer criticizes the ascertainable trend of applying for an approval as so-called “orphan drug” for oncological drugs more and more. These are drugs for the treatment of rare diseases, which require less evidence of their benefits and safety for their approval.

Inadequate study of benefits and risks
"The pharmaceutical companies seem to be very interested in approving cancer drugs as orphan drugs," says study author Professor Dr. Daniel Grandt from Saarbrücken Clinic. In 2015, a third of the newly launched drugs were orphan drugs. At the time of approval, many of these drugs had only been studied in fewer than 100 patients and randomized comparative studies were mostly missing. Even ten years later, the clinical studies required at the time of approval had not yet been completed.

Regular early benefit assessment required
"All patients have the right to know what the risks of an orphan drug are," Professor Grandt criticizes the lack of studies. In the interests of patient safety, the orphan drugs should therefore be subjected to a regular early benefit assessment, the expert demands. In addition, these drugs in particular should also be re-evaluated at a later date.

Pharmaceutical expenditure reaches almost five billion euros
According to the figures in the current Barmer drug report, drug expenditure (without prescriptions) for insured Barmer insurers rose by 3.5 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year. This increase is mainly due to more prescriptions, less to an increase in the average cost of medicines, reports the Barmer. The total expenditure on pharmaceuticals reached 4.72 billion euros (3.89 billion euros in 2012). The sales leader (134 million euros) was the active ingredient adalilumab, which is marketed under the trade name Humira® as a medication for rheumatoid arthritis and chronic inflammatory bowel diseases. In second place came the blood thinner Xarelto® (active ingredient rivaroxaban) with 90 million euros and in third place the cancer drug Avastin® (active ingredient bevacizumab) with sales of almost 87 million euros. (fp)

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