Cancer drug prices vary wildly across Europe, and Britain is paying much less than most of its neighbours

Sarah Spickernell
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Deals between governments and drug manufacturers are confidential
Deals between governments and drug manufacturers are confidential (Source: Getty)

When it comes to cancer medicines, there are no set price tags – the amount paid varies according to country. But the good news is that in the case of Europe, the UK fares pretty well.

By looking at the average prices paid for 31 different cancer medicines across 16 countries in Europe, researchers in Austria found in some instances, governments were paying 388 per cent more than others.

And they discovered that of everyone in northern Europe, Britain was paying least to drug manufacturers. Only some Mediterranean countries including Greece, Spain and Portugal paid similarly low sums.

By comparison, Switzerland, Germany and Sweden were found to be paying some of the highest figures. The researchers based their findings on official drug price data from the Pharma Price Information service of the Austrian Public Health Institute, and the results are published in The Lancet Oncology.

"Public [organisations] in Germany are paying 223 per cent more in terms of official prices for some treatments than those in Greece," said lead author Sabine Vogler, adding that the difficulty in making prices equal came from the confidentiality of agreements.

Some high-income countries have managed to barter the manufacturers down to lower prices, but these agreements, including the agreed prices, are confidential.

Although these agreements ensure patient access to new drugs, other countries risk overpaying when setting drug prices through the common practice of external price referencing, or international price comparison, because they can only use the official undiscounted prices as a benchmark.

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