Price of life-saving cancer drug hiked 1,400% in four years

After a startup acquired a medication to treat Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2013, it raised the price nine times

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 28, 2017 4:06PM (EST)

 (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
(AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Once again, a pharmaceutical company has raised prices on a life-saving drug because  apparently profits matter more than human beings.

Lomustine, a cancer drug that helps patients with brain tumors and Hodgkin's lymphoma, has had its price rise by nearly 1,400 percent since 2013, according to CBS News. This puts lomustine in the same category as Kymriah, a drug that treats certain types of blood cancers, which has had its price increase to $475,000 per patient; Yescarta, another blood cancer drug that has had its price increase to $373,000; and Alecensa, a drug that costs nearly $160,000 each year.

In the case of lomustine, the drug itself is no longer protected by any patents and could thus in theory be sold in a generic form. Because it is so specialized, however, no generic version is currently available.

The drug was initially sold as CeeNU by Bristol-Myers Squib for $50 a capsule (for the highest dose) until they sold it to a Miami startup known as NextSource in 2013, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company renamed the drug as Gleostine and has increased the price on nine occasions since purchasing it, including a 20 percent hike in August and a 12 percent hike in November. The life-saving drug currently costs $768 per pill.

It remains to be seen whether NextSource's apparent price gouging will spark the same level of public outrage as other high-profile stories of this nature. Perhaps the most notorious entry in this canon is "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli, who raised the price of Daraprim (which is used by pregnant women and immunocompromised patients) from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill, an increase of 5,445 percent, after he aquired the company that manufactures the medication. There is also Heather Bresch, the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.V., and the CEO of the pharmaceutical company Mylan, who raised the price for a two-pack of Epipens by almost 550 percent to $608.61.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Big Pharma Ceenu Lomustine Martin Shkreli Price Gouging