Alarming Incidence of Cancer: Fragile Infrastructure: Escalating Drug Prices

According to the ‘Fact-Sheet 2014′ of the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer cases would rise from 14 million in 2012 to 22 million within the next two decades. It is, therefore, no wonder that cancers figured among the leading causes of over 8.2 million deaths in 2012, worldwide.

A reflection of this scary scenario can also be visualized while analyzing the growth trend of various therapy segments of the global pharmaceutical market.

A recent report of ‘Evaluate Pharma (EP)’ has estimated that the worldwide sales of prescription drugs would reach US$ 1,017 bn by 2020 with a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5.1 percent between 2013 and 2020. Interestingly, oncology is set to record the highest sales growth among the major therapy categories with a CAGR of 11.2 percent during this period, accounting for US$ 153.4 bn of the global pharmaceutical sales.

The key growth driver is expected to be an exciting new class of cancer products targeting the programmed death-1 (PD-1) pathway with a collective value of US$ 14 bn in 2020, says the report.

Another recent report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics also highlights that global oncology spending touched US$ 91 billion in 2013 growing at 5 percent annually.

Consequently, Oncology would emerge as the biggest therapeutic class, more than twice of the anti-diabetic category, which features next to it.

Key global players:

Roche would continue to remain by far the largest player in the oncology market in 2020 with a 5 percent year-on-year growth between 2013 and 2020 with estimated total sales of over US$ 34bn in 2020 against US$ 25bn in 2013.

In 2020, besides Roche, other key players in the oncology segment would, in all probability, be Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Novartis, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Astellas Pharma, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Merck & Co, the EP report says.

Escalating costs of cancer drugs:

As IMS Health indicates, the overall cost for cancer treatments per month in the United States has now reached to US$10,000 from US$ 5,000 just a year ago. Thus, cancer drugs are fast becoming too expensive even in the developed markets, leave aside India.

The following table would help fathom how exorbitant are the costs per therapy of the common cancer drugs, though these are from the United States:

Generic                               Diagnosis

 Cost/ Dose (US$)

Cost of     Therapy/    28 days  (US$)

Cost per  Therapy      (US$)

brentuximab Hodgkins lymphoma

14,000

18,667

224,000

Pertuzumab Breast cancer

4,000

5,333

68,000

pegylated interferon Hepatitis C

700

2,800

36,400

Carfilzomib Multiple myeloma

1,658

9,948

129,324

ziv-aflibercept CRC

2,300

4,600

59,800

Omacetaxine CML

560

3,920

50,960

Regorafenib CRC

450

9,446

122,800

Bosutinib CML

278

7,814

101,580

Vemurafenib Melanoma

172

4,840

62,915

Abiraterone Prostate

192

5,391

70,080

Crizotinib NSCLC

498

27,951

363,367

Enzalutamide Prostate

248

6,972

90,637

ado-trastuzumab emtansine Breast – metastatic

8,500

8,115

105,500

Ponatinib Leukemia

319

8,941

116,233

Pomalidomide Multiple myeloma

500

10,500

135,500

(Source: ION Solutions)

Even US researchers concerned about high cancer drugs cost:

It is interesting to note, that in a review article published recently in ‘The Lancet Oncology’, the US researchers Prof. Thomas Smith and Dr. Ronan Kelly identified drug pricing as one area of high costs of cancer care. They are confident that this high cost can be reduced, just as it is possible for end-of-life care and medical imaging – the other two areas of high costs in cancer treatment.

Besides many other areas, the authors suggested that reducing the prices of new cancer drugs would immensely help containing cancer costs. Prof. Smith reportedly said, “There are drugs that cost tens of thousands of dollars with an unbalanced relationship between cost and benefit. We need to determine appropriate prices for drugs and inform patients about their costs of care.”

Cancer drug price becoming a key issue all over:

As the targeted therapies have significantly increased their share of global oncology sales, from 11 percent a decade ago to 46 percent last year, increasingly, both the Governments and the payers, almost all over the world, have started feeling quite uncomfortable with the rapidly ascending drug price trend.

In the top cancer markets of the world, such as, the United States and Europe, both the respective governments and also the private insurers have now started playing hardball with the cancer drugs manufacturers.

There are several instances in the developed markets, including the United States, where the stakeholders, such as, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) of the United Kingdom and American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) are expressing their concerns about manufacturers’ charging astronomical prices, even for small improvements in the survival time.

Following examples would give an idea of global sensitivity in this area:

  • After rejecting Roche’s breast cancer drug Kadcyla as too expensive, NICE reportedly articulated in its statement, “A breast cancer treatment that can cost more than US$151,000 per patient is not effective enough to justify the price the NHS is being asked to pay.”
  • In October 2012, three doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center announced in the New York Times that their hospital wouldn’t be using Zaltrap. These oncologists did not consider the drug worth its price. They questioned, why prescribe the far more expensive Zaltrap? Almost immediately thereafter, coming under intense stakeholder pressure, , Sanofi reportedly announced 50 percent off on Zaltrap price.
  • Similarly, ASCO in the United States has reportedly launched an initiative to rate cancer drugs not just on their efficacy and side effects, but prices as well.

India:

  • India has already demonstrated its initial concern on this critical issue by granting Compulsory License (CL) to the local player Natco to formulate the generic version of Bayer’s kidney cancer drug Nexavar and make it available to the patients at a fraction of the originator’s price. As rumors are doing the rounds, probably some more patented cancer drugs would come under Government scrutiny to achieve the same end goal.
  • I indicated in my earlier blog post that the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) of India by its notification dated July 10, 2014 has decided to bring, among others, some anticancer drugs too, not featuring in the National List of Essential Medicines 2011 (NLEM 2011), under price control.
  • Not too long ago, the Indian government reportedly contemplated to allow production of cheaper generic versions of breast cancer drug Herceptin in India. Roche – the originator of the drug ultimately surrendered its patent rights in 2013, apprehending that it would lose a legal contest in Indian courts, according to media reports. Biocon and Mylan thereafter came out with biosimilar version of Herceptin in the country with around 40 percent lesser price.

Hence, responsible pricing of cancer drugs would continue to remain a key pressure-point  in the days ahead.

Increasing R&D investments coming in oncology:

Considering lucrative business growth opportunities and financial returns from this segment, investments of global pharma players remain relatively high in oncology, accounting for more than 30 percent of all preclinical and phase I clinical product developments, with 21 New Molecular Entities (NMEs) being launched and reaching patients in the past two years alone, according to IMS Health.

However, it is also worth noting that newly launched treatments typically increase the overall incremental survival rate between two and six months.

Opportunities for anti-cancer biosimilars:

With gradual easing out of the regulatory pathways for biosimilar drugs in the developed markets, especially in the US, a new competitive dynamic is evolving in the high priced, over US$ 40 billion, biologics market related to cancer drugs. According to IMS Health, on a global basis, biosimilars are expected to generate US$ 6 to12 billion in oncology sales by 2020, increasing the level of competition but accounting for less than 5 percent of the total biologics market even at that time.

Alarming situation of cancer in India:

A major report, published in ‘The Lancet Oncology’ states that In India, around 1 million new cancer cases are diagnosed each year, which is estimated to reach 1.7 million in 2035.

The report also highlights, though deaths from cancer are currently 600,000 -700,000 annually, it is expected to increase to around 1.2 million during this period.

Such high incidence of cancer in India is attributed to both internal factors such as, poor immune conditions, genetic pre-disposition or hormonal and also external factors such as, industrialization, over growth of population, lifestyle and food habits.

The Lancet Oncology study showed that while incidence of cancer in the Indian population is only about a quarter of that in the United States or Europe, mortality rates among those diagnosed with the disease are much higher.

Experts do indicate that one of the main barriers of cancer care is its high treatment cost, that is out of reach for millions of Indians. They also believe that cancer treatment could be effective and cheaper, if detected early. Conversely, the treatment would be more expensive, often leading to bankruptcy, if detected late and would, at the same time, significantly reduce the chances of survival too.

The fact that cancer is being spotted too late in India and most patients lack access to treatment, would be quite evident from the data that less than even 30 percent of patients suffering from cancer survive for more than five years after diagnosis, while over two-thirds of cancer related deaths occur among people aged 30 to 69.

Unfortunately, according to the data of the Union Ministry of Health, 40 percent of over 300 cancer centers in India do not have adequate facilities for advanced cancer care. It is estimated that the country would need at least 600 additional cancer care centers by 2020 to meet this crying need.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer, accounting for over 1 in 5 of all deaths from cancer in women, while 40 percent of cancer cases in the country are attributable to tobacco.

Indian Market and key local players:

Cancer drug market in India was reported to be around Rs 2,000 Crore (US$ 335 million) in 2013 and according to a recent Frost & Sullivan report, is estimated to grow to Rs 3,881 Crore (US$ 650 million) by 2017 with a CAGR of 15.46 percent, throwing immense business growth opportunities to pharma players.

Dr.Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL) is one of the leading Indian players in oncology. DRL has already developed biosimilar version of Rituxan (Rituximab) of Roche, Filgastrim of Amgen and has also launched the first generic Darbepoetin Alfa and Peg-grafeel.

Other major Indian players in this field are Cipla, Lupin, Glenmark, Emcure, Biocon, Ipca, Natco, Intas, Reliance Life Science, Zydus Cadila and some more. These home grown companies are expected to take a leading role in the fast growing oncology segments of India, together with the major MNC players, as named above.

Analysis of detailed opportunities that would be available to these companies and consequent financial impacts could be a subject of separate discussion.

Conclusion:

Unlike many other developed and developing countries of the world, there is no system yet in place in India to negotiate prices of innovative patented drugs with the respective manufacturers, including those used for cancer. However, NPPA is now moving fast on reducing prices of cancer drugs. It has reportedly pulled up six pharma for not providing pricing data of cancer drugs sold by them.

Further, CL for all patented anti-cancer drugs may not be a sustainable measure for all time to come, either. One robust alternative, therefore, is the intense price negotiation for patented drugs in general, including anti-cancer drugs, as provided in the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Policy 2012 (NPPP 2012).

This important issue has been under consideration of the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) since 2007. The report produced by the committee formed for this specific purpose, after dilly-dallying for over five years, now hardly has any takers and gathering dusts.

I reckon, much discussed administrative inertia, insensitivity and abject lack of sense of urgency of the previous regime, have desisted the DoP from progressing much on this important subject, beyond of course customary lip services, as on date. Intense lobbying by vested interests from across the world, seems to have further helped pushing this envelope deep inside an inactive terrain.

The new Government would hopefully make the DoP break its deep slumber now to resolve this critical issue decisively, in a time bound manner, assigning clear accountability, without any further delay.

At the same time, shouldn’t both the Honorable Ministers of Health and Chemicals & Fertilizers, taking the State Governments on board, put their collective resources together to create the following, expeditiously:

- A robust national health infrastructure for cancer care

- A transparent mechanism to prevent escalating cancer drug prices and other treatment costs

Hope, the good days would come to the cancer patients of India, at least, sooner than never.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion. 

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