Lung Cancer Drug Price Trends Cause Alarm, Highlight Need for Reform

Sharon Worcester

March 02, 2022

U.S. prices for brand-name lung cancer drugs generally increased between 2015 and 2020 without evidence of price competition, a cross-sectional analysis revealed.

The findings underscore the need for price reform, according to the investigators, who analyzed prices for 17 brand-name medications used for treating metastatic non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Prices increased during the study period and correlated within each drug class, Aakash Desai, MBBS, and colleagues from the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., found.

“Because numerous new drugs have been approved for the treatment of NSCLC in recent years, we sought to specifically study the price competition among drugs used to treat this cancer subtype,” they explained, noting that for most drug classes price increases outpaced changes in the consumer price index for prescription medications and the inflation rate.

The findings were published Jan. 25, 2022, in JAMA Network Open.

Multiple brand-name medications across several drug classes, including four immune checkpoint inhibitors (pembrolizumab, nivolumab, atezolizumab, and durvalumab), five epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors (gefitinib, afatinib, erlotinib, osimertinib, and dacomitinib), five anaplastic lymphoma kinase inhibitors (crizotinib, ceritinib, alectinib, brigatinib, and lorlatinib), two BRAF inhibitors (dabrafenib, vemurafenib), and one MEK inhibitor (trametinib) were included in the analysis.

Median Pearson correlation coefficients approached 1.0 for all drug classes, indicating that prices increased despite within-class drug competition. Median values ranged from 0.898 for epidermal growth factor inhibitors to 0.999 for anaplastic lymphoma kinase inhibitors and BRAF and MEK inhibitors, the investigators found.

Median compounded annual growth rates (CAGRs) were 1.81% for immune checkpoint inhibitors, 2.56% for epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors, 2.46% for anaplastic lymphoma kinase and ROS1 inhibitors, and 3.06% for BRAF and MEK inhibitors.

“With the exception of the immunotherapy class, the median cost CAGR outpaced the annual growth rate of the consumer price index for prescription drugs at 2.10% and, for all classes, the average yearly inflation rate of 1.75% during the same period,” they wrote.

Also of note, only one price decrease occurred among all therapeutic classes studied.

“This was observed for erlotinib between 2019 and 2020, and it corresponded with the introduction of a generic competitor to the market,” the authors said.

The findings are reminiscent of an earlier study that showed a 25% increase in the price of 24 patented injectable anticancer agents in the United States over a period of 8 years after launch.

“These increases in cost were not offset by supplemental U.S. Food and Drug Administration approvals, new competitors, or new off-label indications. Thus, price increases over time were not substantially reduced by market competition and increased at similar rates among drugs within the same class,” they wrote, adding that “although one might expect oncology drug prices to decrease over time after market entry, the list price of most anticancer agents increases paradoxically.”

The “lock-step price increases” observed without evidence of price competition in this analysis raise concerns about the affordability of promising oncology drugs, they said, concluding that “academic, industry, and government partnerships should be developed to address the high costs of prescription oncology drugs, which may soon be unaffordable for most patients if the trends discovered in the present study continue.”

Desai reported having no disclosures.

This story originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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