Despite the high cost of many drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, most patients are moderately to highly satisfied with the medications they are taking, according to a new research report. Most patients also said they were unlikely to request a change in drug therapy in the next year.
BioTrends Research Group surveyed 249 rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients online in April and found a high degree of patient satisfaction with a whole range of RA drugs, from inexpensive over the counter medications like ibuprofen to injectable drugs that cost up to $25,000 a year.
“They weren’t dissatisfied with the high cost of these drugs, because it was fairly transparent,” said Paul Zimmerman, a research therapy leader for Biotrends. “The patients were fairly satisfied because either their insurance covered it or at least a third of them participated in some kind of co-pay assistance program.”
Reports such as these are closely watched by analysts, because the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis is such a lucrative field for pharmaceutical companies, accounting for about $20 billion annually in sales.
RA is an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, causing painful inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RA affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans.
While biologic injectable drugs such as Abbott Laboratories’ (NYSE: ABT) Humira and Amgen’s (NASDAQ:AMGN) Enbrel still dominate the RA space, BioTrends’ report found that conventional disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) were rated highest on ease of use and cost due to their oral formulations and generic availability.
“Approximately half of the surveyed rheumatoid arthritis patients taking conventional DMARDs and/or biologics do not experience any side effects,” said BioTrends senior data analyst Jen Dolga. “Therefore, if their current drug is working and they are not experiencing side effects, the patients are not going to ask their doctors to change their medication.”
The high degree of patient satisfaction is in marked contrast to a recent of survey of rheumatologists by BioTrends, which found that nearly half of the physicians rated rheumatoid arthritis as a disease with a high unmet need for new drug therapies.
Rheumatologists have been quick to embrace Xeljanz, a new oral RA medication introduced by Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) late last year. After just three months on the market, over a third of the rheumatologists surveyed by BioTrends had prescribed Xeljanz to their patients.
Some analysts predict sales of Xeljanz alone could eventually reach $3 billion annually. According to Pfizer, a 30-day supply of Xeljanz costs $2,055, or about $24,000 per year, which is slightly less than Humira and Enbrel.
About two-thirds of moderate to severe RA patients take methotrexate, a generic DMARD that is cheaper than biologics, according to BioTrends.