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Lawmakers Eye “Staggering” Price Hikes for Leukemia Drug

Cost of Iclusig jumped four times this year

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) have sent a letter to Ariad Pharmaceuticals requesting information about why the company increased the price of the leukemia medication ponatinib (Iclusig) four times in 2016 to $199,000 a year. According to the letter, Ariad has hiked the cost of the drug by more than $80,000 over the last several years.

Sanders and Cummings are also investigating whether the company took additional steps to boost profits by discontinuing sales of certain dosages and quantities in order to charge patients and insurers more in exchange for less medication.

Ariad received approval to market ponatinib in December 2012 for patients who did not respond to available therapies for chronic myeloid leukemia. Within a year, the FDA requested that sales and clinical trials of the drug be suspended because of reports of serious adverse effects. The FDA allowed Ariad to resume selling ponatinib in December 2013, but only to a smaller subset of patients who are resistant to other treatments.

“Despite this new evidence showing the drug posed a far greater safety risk to patients than was known when the drug came on the market, Ariad nonetheless raised the price of Iclusig several times over the subsequent four years,” Sanders and Cummings wrote.

In a statement, Ariad confirmed receipt of the letter, adding that it “recognizes the high cost of innovative oncology drugs and believes in the importance and efficacy of its products.” The company has spent $1.3 billion on research and development for ponatinib and isn’t making a profit, the statement said.

The spotlight on Ariad’s business practices follows notorious price hikes by Turing Pharmaceuticals and Valeant. In addition, Mylan has been on the hot seat because of years of price hikes on its lifesaving epinephrine autoinjector, EpiPen.

Sources: Senator Bernie Sanders; October 20, 2016; Letter to Ariad; October 20, 2016; and FiercePharma; October 21, 2016.

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