US tops chart of most expensive countries for cancer drugs

Billy Bambrough
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Researchers used gross domestic product and cost of living statistics from the International Monetary Fund to estimate drug price affordability (Source: Getty)

The US forks out the most in the world for cancer drugs, new research has revealed.

The highest retail prices for a median of 23 cancer drugs were found to be in the US, with the lowest prices in India and South Africa.

The UK ranked third, behind China.

Despite poorer countries having access to cheaper drugs, the treatments were found to be least affordable in lower income countries.

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The study of cancer drug prices, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago, spanned seven countries though did not take into account discounts or rebates to list prices.

Median monthly prices for branded drugs hit $8,694 in the US, with prices averaging in $1,515 India.

For generics, median prices were highest in the US, at $654, and lowest in South Africa, $120, and India, $159.

The UK median generic monthly prices came in at $458, while branded drugs cost $2,587.

After prices were calculated as a percentage of wealth adjusted for the cost of living, cancer drugs appeared to be least affordable in India and China.

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Generic drug prices were 48 per cent and patented drugs were 288 per cent of wealth adjusted for the cost of living in China, while in India the cost of generics was 33 per cent of adjusted wealth and patented drugs were 313 per cent.

In the US generics were found to be priced at 14 per cent of wealth adjusted for the cost of living, and patented cancer drugs were 192 per cent.

Australia was found to be the most affordable country for cancer drugs, with generics priced at three per cent of "domestic product per capita at purchasing power parity" and patented drugs were 71 per cent.

ASCO expert Patricia Ganz said:

There are significant differences in drug prices across different countries, but even more important is that increasing prices are putting a significant burden on patients. More needs to be done to make treatments affordable and accessible for all patients.

There has recently been a global outcry over the cost of medical drugs after some high-profile cases where companies suddenly hiked prices to many times their previous value.

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Drug companies argue that the prices of the drugs is due to the costs associated with developing them and higher prices lead to increased investment in new drugs.

Some have even suggested the industry should be prouder of the work it has done.

A recent study from the anti-corruption Transparency International found that the global pharmaceutical industry was not doing enough to combat fraud and corruption.

“This study provides a glimpse into prices and affordability of cancer drugs around the world and sets the stage for further research,” said lead study author Daniel Goldstein, a senior physician in medical oncology at Rabin Medical Center in Petach Tkvah, Israel. “However, the implications of our findings are limited because we were not able to take discounts and rebates into account, which would better predict drug affordability.”