Why Was There a 500% Price Increase on Cancer Treatment Lomustine?

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Tori Marsh
Tori Marsh, MPH, is on the Research Team at GoodRx, and is the resident expert on drug pricing and savings.
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Yet another brand-name drug manufacturer is dramatically raising their prices.

In recent years, we’ve seen numerous cases of manufacturers increasing brand drug prices at an astronomical rate without any reasonable explanation. The makers of life-saving drugs like EpiPen (epinephrine), Nitropress (sodium nitroprusside), and many popular insulins have dramatically increased prices, causing some patients to go without treatment or turn to the black market. You’d think that all the recent bad press might prevent these kinds of increases, but apparently not.

The price of Gleostine (lomustine), a popular anti-cancer drug used to treat brain tumors and Hodgkin’s disease in both humans and pets, has increased by more than 500% in just four years. Here’s the story:

Back in 2013, GlaxoSmithKline discontinued production of CeeNu, the brand name for the generic drug lomustine. With Glaxo out, NextSource Biotechnology, the only manufacturer of the generic version, was left as the only maker of the drug. At the time, NextSource charged about $100 for one dose.

NextSource soon decided to “re-brand” the drug, and they re-released lomustine in 2014 as a brand name drug under the name Gleostine.

You’ll never guess what happened next. NextSource’s Gleostine, the exact same product they had sold previously, has a retail price of over $600 just four years later.

Although the increase occurred in 2014, until recently lomustine had been available in pharmacies as NextSource slowly phased the generic off the market. Today, Americans are just starting to experience sticker shock at the pharmacy for this life-saving medication.

What does this mean for me?

Unfortunately, all this drama means a higher cost for patients. When generic lomustine was available, patients were paying an average cash price of around $100 for one 100 mg dose. Now that only brand name Gleostine is available, the average retail price for one 100 mg dose is $648.88. That’s a markup of $548, for the exact same drug.

In fairness, NextSource does a patient assistance program which can offset this cost for qualifying patients.

How often does this happen?

The good news is that these dramatic price increases don’t happen often. However, this case resembles the strategy that some pharmaceutical companies are adopting—acquiring older generics and turning them into expensive specialty drugs.

You might remember this happening with Daraprim (pyrimethamine), which was bought by Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals—who promptly raised its price from $13.50 to $750 per tablet. Before it was bought, Daraprim was a 62-year old anti-parasitic drug that had long treated conditions like malaria and other infections.

Other drugs like Nitropress (sodium nitroprusside) and Seromycin (cycloserine), have seen hefty price increases in recent years as they have been purchased and “re-branded” by new companies.

How can I save on Gleostine?

Now that only Gleostine is available, finding opportunities to save is important! Unfortunately, there is no co-pay card for insured patients. As mentioned, NextSource offers a patient assistance program, NextSource Cares. This program provides Gleostine free of charge to uninsured eligible patients. Call 1-855-457-8880 for more information and instructions on enrollment.

If you have insurance, check with your provider. Some (but definitely not all) insurance plans will cover a portion of your cost.

GoodRx will continue to monitor the price of Gleostine (and every other prescription drug) to alert you to price increases and ways to save. We’re on the case!

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