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Drug pricing is a big issue in the news, and there is continued controversy surrounding the major differences in patented cancer drug prices around the world. However, the patterns of affordability of these drugs are poorly understood. And although cancer care is undergoing a revolution with the arrival of new therapies such as immunotherapy, monoclonal antibodies, and targeted therapy, prices for cancer drugs vary widely.

A recent study in Oncotarget, 2017, Vol. 8, Issue 42, by Jonathon Clark, Daniel A. Goldstein and others entitled “A global comparison of the cost of patented cancer drugs in relation to global differences in wealth” compared patterns of affordability of cancer drugs in Australia, China, India, Israel, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States to assess whether affordability corresponded to other economic indicators.

The researchers considered many factors in determining patterns of affordability, including:

  • International differences in wealth
  • Value of drug clinical benefit
  • Income level and access to new therapies

For the seven countries selected, the researchers analyzed drug prices and national wealth and found that cancer drug prices are highest in the United States. Yet, in looking at income compared to drug prices, cancer drugs are the least affordable in India by a large margin. Despite lower prices than in the USA, cancer drugs are less affordable in middle-income countries than in high-income countries.

The researchers obtained the prices of a basket of cancer drugs in all seven countries, and converted the prices to US dollars using both foreign exchange rates and purchasing power parity. They then assessed international differences in wealth by collecting values for gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in addition to average salaries. We compared patterns of affordability of cancer drugs by dividing the drug prices by the markers of wealth.

Ultimately, the study concluded that cancer drugs are less affordable in middle-income countries than in high-income countries. Differential pricing may be an acceptable policy to ensure global affordability and access to highly active anti-cancer therapies.

Oncotarget is a weekly peer-reviewed open access bio-medical journal covering research on all aspects of oncology . The editors-in-chief are Mikhail (Misha) Blagosklonny and Andrei V. Gudkov.

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