LONDON – Germany, Sweden and Switzerland pay the highest price for cancer drugs, according to a report published Thursday by the Lancet Oncology journal.
Researchers compared prices between 16 European countries, Australia, and New Zealand and found that some of them might be overpaying for patented prescription drugs, whereas the UK, Spain, Greece and Portugal pay the least.
Between June and July 2015, investigators discovered that official prices differed by 92 percent, while real prices people paid for cancer drugs after discounts presented a variation of 58 percent.
“This calls for joint action by countries and medical societies with the pharmaceutical industry, since fast and equitable access to promising new drugs is important to improving treatment results,” the researchers declared.
The study authors said that more transparency is needed in order to avoid the risk of overpaying for drugs, which is led by the fact that pricing authorities can only take into account official undiscounted prices – only the funding organizations have access to discounts information – at the moment of setting prices through the common policy of external price referencing.
Price information was available in Austria, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the UK, Norway and Italy, except for one drug. On the other hand, price data was restricted for a handful of drugs in some other countries, including New Zealand and Portugal. The drug price between the highest priced country and the one which paid the least differed from 28 percent to 388 percent.
Researchers observed the greatest difference in prices for gemcitabine, a drug commonly used in the treatment of several cancers such as breast, ovarian, lung and pancreatic cancer. In New Zealand, each vial costs €209, whereas patients pay just €43 in Australia. As for Zoledronic, which is used to prevent bone complications in late stages of cancer, it costs €330 per vial in New Zealand but just €128 in Greece.
Drugmakers claim that high prices are needed to cover the costs of developing modern drugs, and this has led to several conflicts across Europe. For instance, in Britain, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has dictated that new medications are too expensive to be included on the state health system, which has triggered several protests.
In the European Union, cancer drugs accounted for nearly a third of the health-care expenditure in 2009, which was around €51 billion. During the period from 2000 to 2012, there was an alarming increase of cancer drugs expending in Australia: from Aus$65 million to $422 million.
Globally, the United States is the nation that pays the highest price for patented prescription drugs. This October, Reuters published a report that revealed that U.S. prices for the world’s most demanding medicines were three times higher than in Britain.