Background: Cancer drugs are a major component of pharmaceutical spending in the USA and Europe. The number of approved cancer drugs continues to increase. More new drugs with overlapping mechanisms of action and similar approved indications might be expected to decrease prices within drug classes. We compared patterns of price changes for cancer drugs within the same class in the USA and in two European countries (Germany and Switzerland) with national mechanisms for drug price negotiation.
Methods: For this comparative analysis, we identified cancer drugs approved for the treatment of solid cancers in the USA and Europe (Germany and Switzerland) between Jan 1, 2009, and Dec 31, 2020, using the US Food and Drug Administration's Drugs@FDA database and the European Medicines Agency's publicly available database. We considered cancer drugs as within-class competitors if they were approved for the same indication and had the same biological mechanism. We calculated monthly treatment prices for each drug, median price changes at launch and over time, and differences within and across drug classes. European price data were converted to US dollars by applying the exchange rates on Dec 1, 2020, and prices were adjusted for inflation. Median changes in the drugs' monthly treatment prices at 2 and 4 years after market entry across and within drug classes were also assessed. For the USA, correlations in relative price changes between all pairs of drugs within and across drug classes were calculated with Spearman's rank correlation.
Findings: Our study cohort comprised 12 drug classes covering nine indications. With the exception of one drug, increasing prices were observed within and across all drug classes in the USA (median 6·07% [range -3·60 to 33·83] 2 years after market entry, and 15·31% [-4·15 to 54·64] 4 years after market entry). By contrast, in Europe, prices generally decreased over time or did not increase more than inflation (2 years after market entry: -21·01% [range -50·72 to 12·71] in Germany and -1·48% [-26·81 to 1·69] in Switzerland; 4 years after market entry: -25·54% [-51·81 to 11·63] in Germany and -13·02% [-43·83 to 18·31] in Switzerland). In the USA, most prices changes within and across drug classes occurred at the end and beginning of the year (ie, from Dec 1 to Jan 31). In the USA, correlation for price changes was r=0·29 (SD 0·36) for within-class drugs and r=0·28 (0·36) for drugs across drug classes.
Interpretation: Competition within classes of cancer drugs generally did not constrain rising prices in the USA. Price negotiations, as practised in Germany or Switzerland, could help address the high prices of cancer drugs in the USA.
Funding: Swiss Cancer Research Foundation (Krebsforschung Schweiz), Swiss National Science Foundation, and Arnold Ventures.
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