Cost of Multiple Sclerosis Drugs Soaring

Cost of Multiple Sclerosis Drugs Soaring

The cost of specialty drugs used to treat Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is expected to nearly double in the next four years, with an annual price tag exceeding $50,000 per patient, according to a new study. Drugs now used to treat MS already account for over two-thirds of a patient’s total medical bill, researchers say.

The study, conducted by pharmacy benefit manager Prime Therapeutics, in collaboration with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, looked at pharmacy and medical claims of one million insured members from 2008 to 2010.

Researchers  found that the average annual MS specialty drug cost was $28,152 while all other health care costs were $13,608. Since 2008, the price for MS self-injectable specialty drugs increased 22.6% annually.

”As the results show, MS specialty drug costs have increased by double digits in the last several years and are not projected to level off in the near future,” said Pat Gleason, director of clinical outcomes assessment at Prime Therapeutics.

”In fact (we) predict that MS drug costs will exceed $50,000 per person per year in 2016, which will put a significant strain on patients with this condition,” said Gleason. “Inflationary price increases are by far the major driver of increased MS specialty drug costs, meaning anticipated medical savings from preventing MS relapses cannot offset the cost of the MS drugs.”

MS specialty drugs reduce relapses by approximately one third, but have been found to minimally influence progression of the disease and disability. Currently, most first-line medications used to treat MS are injected.

One oral medication, fingolimod, sold by Novartis (NYSE: NVS) under the brand name Gilenya, hit the market two years ago. Two other pills — teriflunomide, marketed under the brand name Aubagio by the French drug maker Sanofi (NYSE: SNY), and dimethyl fumarate (BG-12) developed by Biogen Idec (NYSE: BIIC) – are in the pipeline.

Sanofi estimates that when it hits the market, a year’s worth of treatment with Aubagio will cost about $45,000. Worldwide sales of MS drugs generate about $12 billion annually.

The rising costs of MS medication prompted a study last year, published in the journal Neurology, where researchers weighed the costs of MS drugs in relation to the benefits they provided the patients using them.

Looking at the progress of the disease over a ten year period, the researchers concluded that the drugs provided modest benefits that come at a great expense, and that patient’s enjoyed the greatest benefits when they started treatment early.

MS is a chronic disease which attacks the body’s central nervous system and destroys the myelin sheath that protects the nerve cells. An estimated 400,000 Americans have the disease; more than 2 million worldwide.

For most people with MS, relapses are initially followed by recovery periods or remissions. Over time, recovery periods may be incomplete, leading to progressive decline. There is no known cure.

Authored by: Richard Lenti