(CBS NEWS) — Prices for a cancer drug called lomustine have skyrocketed nearly 1,400 percent since 2013, putting a potentially life-saving treatment out of reach for patients suffering from brain tumors and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Though the 40-year-old medication is no longer protected by patents, no generic version is available.
According to the Wall Street Journal, lomustine was sold by Bristol-Myers Squib for years under the brand name CeeNU at a price of about $50 a capsule for the highest dose. The drugmaker sold lomustine in 2013 to a little-known Miami startup called NextSource, which proceeded to hike lomustine’s price nine times since. It now charges about $768 per pill for the medication.
According to an analysis done for the Journal by Truveen Health Analytics and Elsevier, NextSource this year raised prices for the drug, which it rebranded as Gleostine, by 12 percent in November following a 20 percent increase in August.
NextSource CEO Robert DiCrisci, told the Journal that the company sets its prices based on the costs it incurred in developing the medication and the benefits it provides patients. Like other drugmakers, the company provides discounts and financial assistance to those who can’t afford its cost. A spokesperson for NextSource didn’t respond to an email requesting comment for this story.
Henry S. Friedman, a professor of neurosurgery at Duke University School of Medicine, accused NextSource of “price-gouging” in an interview with the Journal, adding: “People are not going to be able to afford it, or they’re going to pay a lot of money and have financial liability.”
According to the Journal, the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration is offering to expedite the regulatory review process for more than 300 drugs like lomustine that lack generic competitors although their patents have expired, part of the Trump administration’s overall effort to lower pharmaceutical prices. Whether there is enough demand for a niche product like lomustine is hard to say, however.
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