Importance: The high cost of cancer medicines is a public health challenge. Policy makers in the US and Europe are debating reforms to drug pricing that would cover both the prices of new medicines when entering the market and price increases after they are launched.
Objective: To assess launch prices, postlaunch price changes, and clinical benefit of cancer drugs in the US compared with 3 European countries (England, Germany, and Switzerland).
Design, setting, and participants: This economic evaluation identified all new drugs that were approved for use in the US, England, Germany, and Switzerland with initial indications for treatment of adult solid tumor and hematologic cancers. Analysis included drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2019, and by the European Medicines Agency and Swissmedic until December 31, 2019. Prices were adjusted for currency and inflation. Clinical benefit of drugs indicated for solid tumors was assessed using the American Society of Clinical Oncology Value Framework and European Society for Medical Oncology Magnitude of Clinical Benefit Scale. Using Spearman rank correlation coefficients, correlations between clinical benefit and launch prices and postlaunch price changes for each country were evaluated.
Main outcomes and measures: Launch prices, postlaunch price changes, and clinical benefit of cancer drugs.
Results: The cohort included 65 drugs: 47 (72%) approved for solid tumors and 18 (28%) for hematologic cancers. In all countries, the lowest median monthly treatment costs at launch were greater in 2018-2019 vs 2009-2010: $14 580 vs $5790 in the US, $5888 vs $4289 in Germany, $6593 vs $5784 in Switzerland, and $6867 vs $3939 in England. Between 2009 and 2019, 48 of 65 (74%) cancer drugs had price increases in the US that were greater than inflation. Only 1 of 62 (2%) drugs in England, 0 of 60 drugs in Germany, and 7 of 56 drugs (13%) in Switzerland had a median price increase greater than inflation. There were no associations between launch prices or postlaunch price changes and clinical benefit in any assessed country.
Conclusions and relevance: During this economic evaluation study period, launch prices of cancer drugs were substantially higher in the US than in the assessed similar high-income European countries, a gap that increased in the years after approval. Cancer drug prices frequently increased faster than inflation in the US but decreased on inflation-adjusted terms in Europe. Price changes were not associated with clinical benefit in any country.