The price of a 40-year-old cancer drug has skyrocketed in the last four years. After nine consecutive price hikes in that time, the drug's price has risen 1,400 percent.
lomustine has long been used to treat patients with brain tumors, lung cancer and Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to The Independent. The vital drug was originally manufactured and sold by Bristol-Myers Squib under the name CeeNU. In those days, one capsule of lomustine cost about $50.
In 2013, the pharmaceutical giant sold the drug to NextSource Biotechnology, a small Miami startup. NextSource rebranded the drug as Gleostine and began raising prices.
Two price hikes came in the latter half of 2017. In August, the price of lomustine jumped 20 percent, followed by a 12 percent jump in November, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis cited by CBS News. One capsule of lomustine now costs about $768.
"This is simply price gouging," said Henry Friedman, a neuro-oncologist at Duke University, according to The Independent. "People are not going to be able to afford it, or they're going to pay a lot of money and have financial liability."
NextSource CEO Robert DiCrisci said the drug's price is based on the cost of manufacturing the medication and the benefit to patients, according to CBS News. NextSource does provide discounts to patients who can't afford the cost.
Even through the patent for lomustine has long since expired, no other drug company has stepped forward to produce a generic version. This lack of competition means NextSource has no incentive to lower the drug's price.
Axios reports that FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has made a point of promoting generics as a way to bring down rising drug prices. On Christmas, the commissioner tweeted about the high number of generic drugs that the FDA has approved in the last two years.
"This year #FDA approved a record number of generic drugs," he wrote. "For the 11 months from Jan-Nov FDA gave 771 full and 168 tentative generic approvals. Plus, the Dec total is still to come. That compares to the second highest record, in 2016, with a 12-month total of 630 full approvals."
Despite its value to cancer patients, it is unclear if there is enough demand for lomustine to incentivize another company to manufacture a generic version, according to CBS News.
Unfortunately, exorbitant drug prices are not limited to lomustine. CBS News notes Kymriah and Yescarta as two other cancer treatments with sky-high prices. The two blood cancer treatments cost $475,000 and $373,000 respectively.