U.S. Spending on Cancer Drugs Rose $16 Billion in Five Years

Between 2011 and 2016, U.S. spending on cancer treatments jumped from $26.8 billion to $42.1 billion (in inflation-adjusted 2016 dollars). The study, published in the Journal of Oncology Practice, also found that oncology was the highest-ranked therapeutic area in specialty drug spending.

“The reasons for growth in cancer drug expenditures include technology advancements, increasing prices, changing patient demographics, and changes in duration of therapy,” the study authors wrote.

The researchers analyzed the IQVIA National Sales Perspectives database (which reflects wholesale purchases, rather than the amount paid by patients or insurance companies) to track annual transactions between drug manufacturers and distribution centers. They noted that their analysis excluded U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs data since 2014, which would have led to higher total expenditures.

Spending on antineoplastic agents increased 12.2 percent in 2016 (compared with the previous year), which was slightly down from a 15.6 percent increase in 2015 and a 13.4 percent increase in 2014.

During the period covered by the study, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved 52 new cancer therapies. The cancer drugs with the largest growth in expenditures were immune-based therapies, like the checkpoint inhibitors nivolumab, pertuzumab, and pembrolizumab. However, the three drugs with the largest average annual expenditures were biologics that have been approved for years: rituximab, $3.5 billion; bevacizumab, $2.9 billion; and trastuzumab, $2.2 billion.

“Antineoplastic expenditures are expected to increase because of continuing development and approval of costly targeted cancer therapies,” the authors concluded. “Cost containment and [use-management] strategies must be balanced so as not to restrict access or disrupt innovation.”

Source: Hong SJ, Li EC, Matusiak LM, et al. Spending on antineoplastic agents in the United States, 2011 to 2016. J Oncol Pract. 2018 September 18. [Epub ahead of print]; Medscape, September 20, 2018.