Mark Cuban Discounted Pharmacy Offers Imatinib at a Fraction of the Cost

Roxanne Nelson, RN, BSN

July 18, 2022

Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, has launched a company offering generic medication at prices that are substantially lower than the current market listings, including several drugs used in oncology.

One of the drugs offering the biggest savings is generic imatinib (originator product Gleevec), which is used for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), certain acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and certain types of gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST).

Imatinib has a list retail price of $2502.

At the Mark Cuban pharmacy, it is available for $14.40, which offers a saving of $2488.

The online pharmacy, known as the Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company (MCCPDC), began operating in January. It is selling more than 100 generic prescription drugs at the cost of ingredients and manufacturing plus 15% margin, $3 pharmacy dispensing fee, and $5 shipping fee.

"We will do whatever it takes to get affordable pharmaceuticals to patients," said Alex Oshmyansky, MD, PhD, founder and CEO of MCCPDC, in a company statement. "The markup on potentially lifesaving drugs that people depend on is a problem that can't be ignored. It is imperative that we take action and help expand access to these medications for those who need them most."

The company is a registered pharmaceutical wholesaler, and as such, can "bypass middlemen and outrageous markups," the company notes in a press release. They have partnered with the digital healthcare company Truepill, which built and powers the pharmacy's website.

The move has been praised by a long-term campaigner against high cancer drug prices, including those for generic imatinib, Hagop M. Kantarjian, MD, professor and chairman of the Department of Leukemia at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas, Houston.

"I am very excited about the Mark Cuban CostPlus company and similar drug outlets. Cutting the intermediaries will save our healthcare system and patients a lot of money," Kantarjian told Medscape Medical News.

"It will help millions of Americans have access to affordable and much needed drugs, which they might be foregoing at present because they cannot afford the high out-of-pocket expenses," he added.

Generic Medicines

At its launch, the pharmacy offered 109 generic medications. So far, the generics offered for oncology include generic anastrozole, letrozole, raloxifene, and tamoxifen for use in breast cancer, as well as the chemotherapy methotrexate and generic imatinib, as mentioned above.  

All of the drugs sold through the MCCPDC have prices much lower than in the standard marketplace. Becker's Hospital Review recently published a list of the 50 drugs with the biggest savings at Cuban's pharmacy.

At the top of the list was albendazole, an anthelmintic that retails for $6565. In contrast, the MCCPDC price is $453, which translates to a savings of over $6000 for a 30-count supply.

The second-largest saving was for imatinib.  

For the other cancer drugs, the savings were less substantial, reflecting their much lower retail price, but savings still ranged between $66 and $200 per product.

Overall, 14 of the top 50 discounted drugs are slated to save consumers over $500 for a 30-count supply when purchased from MCCPDC.

Medicare Could Save Billions

Medicare would save billions if it used this online pharmacy, say researchers from Harvard University, who recently published a study in Annals of Internal Medicine giving some estimates.

The team analyzed 89 generic drugs listed at MCCPDC and found that Medicare Part D could have saved more than $3 billion in 2020 if they had purchased them at these prices. For example, aripiprazole, a commonly used psychiatric medication, was purchased for more than $2 per pill, while the same generic formulation of the drug is sold by Cuban's company for $0.24 per pill. Overall, just with this one drug, Medicare could have saved $233 million in 2020.

"We found that Medicare spent $9.6 billion on 89 generic drugs in 2020," commented lead author Hussain S. Lalani, MD, MPH in a tweet. "It could have saved up to $3.6 billion on 77 of the 89 drugs if it purchased them at the largest quantity sold by Mark Cuban's Cost Plus Drug Company. The other 12 drugs ($1.5B) did not offer savings."

Lalani pointed out that the price transparency provided by MCCPDC is "helping us to understand the cost of many generic drugs and highlights inefficiencies in the supply chain for generic drugs."

In standard practice, there are "multiple actors" involved in distributing the drug from the pharmaceutical manufacturer to the patient, he explained. "Mark Cuban's company does not accept health insurance, buys from the manufacturer and sells it directly to consumers online!"

He added that innovation and policy reform are needed. "We know that many drug prices are outrageous, and the supply chain is also expensive & NOT working right," he tweeted. "We need a system that delivers innovative, affordable, and accessible medicines for all Americans."

Commenting on Lalani's Twitter thread, Eric Topol, MD, Medscape's editor-in-chief, said that "the many billions the US could save each year by MCCPDC is remarkable."

Topol also noted that the savings estimated in the Annals of Internal Medicine paper were based on fewer than 100 generic drugs that are currently available, but he said that "there will be >1000 more offered in the next year."

No Insurance, No PBMs

Prior to launching the online pharmacy, Cuban established a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) operation to serve companies providing prescription coverage in their employee benefit plans. According to a press release, MCCPDC has pledged to be "radically transparent" in its own negotiations as a PBM, revealing the true costs it pays for drugs and eliminating spread pricing and misaligned rebate incentives. MCCPDC anticipates that its PBM could save companies millions of dollars with no changes to its benefits, as it will eliminate the traditional PBM model.

However, the online pharmacy is a cash-only venture, since MCCPDC refuses to pay third-party PBMs in order to be allowed to process insurance claims. But the model allows patients to immediately purchase medications at a cost that is often less than what they might pay when having to deal with deductible and copay requirements.

In the future, MCCPDC plans to start manufacturing medications. The company is currently building a state-of-the-art pharmaceutical facility in Dallas, Texas, at which it plans to produce its own high-quality medicines at the lowest possible prices.

Roxanne Nelson is a registered nurse and an award-winning medical writer who has written for many major news outlets and is a regular contributor to Medscape.

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