Lawmakers Quiz Ariad on Leukemia Drug Price Hike

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Ariad Pharmaceuticals has become the latest drug maker to be questioned on its drug pricing practices after two lawmakers asked it to explain huge hikes in the price of a medication used in treating leukemia patients.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter to the drug maker on Thursday asking it to provide justification for more than $80,000 hike in the price of the drug Iclusig, according to NPR.

The price of the drug, used to treat patients with chronic myeloid leukemia, has jumped to nearly $200,000 per year. It has been hiked on four occasions in 2016.

The lawmakers are not only complaining that the price of Iclusig has repeatedly been increased this year, but also that the dose has been reduced at the same time. This essentially raises the price paid for the drug further.

In the letter directed at Ariad Chief Executive Paris Panayiotopoulos, Sanders and Cummings accused the drug maker of “outrageous sales tactics” and being concerned more with profit-making than the needs of patients.

Ariad said it knows that prices of oncology drugs are pricey. But it tried to justify the price hikes on the basis that the drug is very efficacious and caters to a very small group of patients whose needs are often not satisfied.

“Iclusig is the first drug that we have brought to the market after years of risk taking and research, and it serves a very small and seriously ill group of cancer patients,” the drug company said in a statement.

The list price for a year’s worth of supply of the drug has risen from $114,960 in 2012 up to $198,732 this October, according to Truven Health Analytics data.

CNBC reports that the drug was originally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2012 for the treatment of a larger group of patients. But the drug was later temporarily taken off the market following complaints of life-threatening blood clots among other side effects. It was re-introduced in late 2013 for a smaller subset of chronic myeloid leukemia patients.

The FDA approves the use of Iclusig only for individuals with chronic myeloid leukemia who have developed resistance to other treatment options due to a genetic mutation.

Saunders recently vowed to increase pressure on drug companies so as to force them to reduce medication prices across the United States, where it is believed patients are being made to pay the most. A tweet from the senator, who represents Vermont, on Iclusig price hikes last week sent the shares of Ariad tumbling by around 15 percent.

The shares slumped by up to 7 percent following the announcement of the letter, whose receipt has been acknowledged by Ariad.

The pharmaceutical company has said its drug pricing is a reflection of how much money it spends on research and development. It said the prices are also influenced by its commitment to “the very small, ultra orphan cancer patient populations that we serve.”

Ariad stated that it disbursed 143 percent of its revenue last year for research and development efforts geared towards rare cancer treatments.

Mylan, Valeant and Turing are some of the pharmaceutical companies that have also been questioned by lawmakers over their drug pricing practices.