Finance

A big drugmaker is backing away from a plan to triple the price of a lifesaving cancer drug after facing a public backlash


The maker of a lifesaving blood cancer treatment planned to triple the cost of the drug — but it’s backing down after pressure from doctors.

The drug, Imbruvica, treats serious forms of blood cancer such as leukemia and lymphoma. Developed by Pharmacyclics in conjunction with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen arm, it has increased survival rates especially in high-risk patients and most patients treated with the drug show favorable outcomes.

In March, Pharmacyclics, which is owned by AbbVie, and Janssen introduced a new form of the drug — this time in tablet form at four different doses. Each dose of the tablet is priced at $400 per pill, about three times the price of the 140 milligram original drug capsule. The new form of the drug is a higher dosage, one-a-day pill that’s supposed to be more convenient for patients to take and stick to.

The intention was to replace the former 140-milligram capsules patients often took multiple times a day. However, the price of the new tablets was consistent across dosage, that meant that patients who only needed 140 milligrams a day of the drug were paying three times as much for the same dosage.

The price change happened just as a pilot study by the Value in Cancer Care Consortium indicated that the drug could work just as efficiently at lower doses for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, making the treatment potentially more affordable.

The decision to raise the cost of its drug was criticized by many cancer doctors, The Washington Post reported. Oncologists said the price increase would impact their ability to curate the dosage for patients with varying degrees of disease severity.

While insurers pick up some of the cost for drugs, patients are still generally stuck footing a portion of the bill. Over 116,800 people have signed a Change.org petition to lower the price for the drug.

Under pressure, Pharmacyclics said on Friday that it would keep its 140 milligram capsule again at the original price as an additional option to the new tablets. The decision occurred on the same day President Donald Trump announced his plan to lower drug prices.

“We have received feedback regarding the availability of Imbruvica capsules, and as a result will continue to offer 140 mg Imbruvica capsules as an option in addition to our one pill, once-a-day tablet,” Pharmacyclics wrote in a statement.

The pharmaceutical industry has long been the subject of scrutiny for its pricing, and faces constant pressure from the public to decrease costs.

In March, US Senator Claire McCaskill released a report showing that the prices of many of the most popular brand-name drugs increased at nearly ten times the cost of inflation from 2012 to 2017. The FDA has also offered to help crack down on high drug prices.

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