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Prices of Cancer Drugs in Europe, Australia, New Zealand Vary Significantly, Study Says

Update Date: Dec 04, 2015 03:55 PM EST

Depending on where you live in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, cancer drugs can either be very affordable or extremely expensive.

According to a new study, prices for cancer drugs vary significantly across these high-income nations. The researchers reported that when it comes to 31 cancer drugs that are under patent, the United Kingdom, Greece, Spain and Portugal pay the lowest average price per unit. Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, however, pay the highest average prices for the same drugs.

"Public payers in Germany are paying 223% more in terms of official prices for interferon alfa 2b for melanoma and leukaemia treatment than those in Greece," lead author Dr. Sabine Vogler reported via MedicalXpress. "For gefitinib to treat non-small-lung cancer, the price in Germany is 172% higher than in New Zealand."

Dr. Vogler is from the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Pharmaceutical Pricing and Reimbursement Policies located in Vienna, Austria.

In terms of drugs, the researchers found that gemcitabine prices varied the most across the different countries, including Australia and New Zealand. Gemcitabine is often used to treat breast, lung, pancreatic and ovarian cancer.

The largest difference in price between the countries - from the highest to the lowest - varied from 28 percent to 50 percent for about one-third of the drugs studied. For about 50 percent of the drugs, the prices ranged from 50 percent to 100 percent. For three of the drugs, which were 10 percent of the sample, the researchers found that prices ranged substantially between 100 percent and 200 percent.

"Some high-income countries have managed to barter the manufacturers down to lower prices, but these agreements, including the agreed prices, are confidential. Although these agreements ensure patient access to new drugs, other countries risk overpaying when setting drug prices through the common practice of external price referencing, or international price comparison, because they can only use the official undiscounted prices as a benchmark. There needs to be far more transparency," Dr. Vogler. "We hope that our findings will provide concrete evidence for policymakers to take action to address high prices and ensure more transparency in cancer drug pricing so that costs and access to new drugs does no depend on where a patient lives."

For this study, the researchers had examined official drug price numbers gathered by the Pharma Price Information (PPI) service, which is a part of the Austrian Public Health Institute. Data included 16 countries in Europe. For information on prices in Australia and New Zealand, the team looked at pharmaceutical schedules.

The study was published in The Lancet.

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