ESMO 2019: Research questions whether high costs of new oncology treatments are associated with added clinical benefits

GlobalData Healthcare 9th October 2019 (Last Updated October 10th, 2019 14:49)

Two studies presented at the European Society of Medical Oncology indicated that many new anti-cancer medicines added little clinical benefit for patients.

ESMO 2019: Research questions whether high costs of new oncology treatments are associated with added clinical benefits

Advances in cancer treatments, such as immunotherapies and precision medicines, have been associated with a corresponding rise in the cost of new and innovative medicines. 

Two studies presented at the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO 2019) meeting in Barcelona, Spain indicated that many new anti-cancer medicines in Europe and the US added little clinical benefit for patients, as determined by improved outcomes such as survival, quality of life or treatment complications, compared to standard treatment, and therefore, are not worth their higher costs. 

Research from the Institute for Advanced Study of Aix-Marseille University (IMéRA) evaluated the relationship between the price of 36 new cancer medicines, approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) between 2004 and 2017 for the treatment of solid tumors in over 68 indications, and their added therapeutic benefit, or ASMR rating, as measured by France’s High Authority of Health (HAS) and ESMO’s Magnitude of Clinical Benefit Scale (ESMO-MCBS). 

The study found that 48% of new drugs were rated as having low added values according to ESMO-MCBS scores, and 70% according to ASMR rating. On average, the monthly cost of new drugs was €2,525 (approximately $2,800), more expensive than comparator drugs for the same cancer type, but these price increases were not correlated with added value.

Researchers at University of Zurich, with funding from the Swiss Cancer League, further assessed differences in 63 cancer drug prices approved in the US from 2009─2017 and in Europe by 2018, and evaluated their correlation with clinical benefit, as measured by the American Society of Clinical Oncology Value Framework (ASCO VF) and the ESMO-MCBS. Overall, median cancer drug prices in Europe were 52% lower than US prices, with the median monthly cost for drugs with low benefit scores ranging from $4,361─5,273 in Europe compared to $12,436 in the US. Again, this study concluded that the prices of cancer drugs were not associated with clinical benefit in these countries.

Key opinion leaders (KOLs) and payers interviewed by GlobalData agree that, overall, the prices of cancer medicines does not necessarily correspond with a significant clinical benefit. However, many pharmaceutical companies argue that new and innovative cancer medicines have high R&D, production, and commercialization costs, and therefore require sufficient returns to retain commercial viability. 

GlobalData’s 2019 survey on the state of the biopharmaceutical industry revealed that 52% of global industry respondents believe that drug pricing and reimbursement constraints will have the greatest negative impact on the pharmaceutical industry in 2019. Therefore, drug pricing pressures from regulators, payers, politicians and patients will remain.

Related reports

GlobalData (2019). Small Cell Lung Cancer: Diverse First-in-Class Pipeline Shows Promise of Targeted Therapies to Treat Aggressive Disease – 2019, September 2019, GDHC497FP

GlobalData (2018). The Biopharmaceutical Industry in 2018: Key Events and Trends to Watch for by Therapy Area – 2018, March 2018, GDHC002ET

GlobalData (2019). The State of the Biopharmaceutical Industry – 2019, January 2019, GDHCHT020