Cancer treatments are on track to become the biggest driver of specialty pharmacy spending as its contribution to overall drug spending hit five percent for the first time in the first half of 2009, according to Medco Health Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: MHS). Oncology specialty drug spending increased 15.1 percent last year, trailing only medications for autoimmune conditions and multiple sclerosis as a specialty drug growth driver. Driven by medications that can cost tens of thousands of dollars per course of therapy and a deep pipeline of new targeted products with fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy, worldwide sales of these medications are expected to reach $80 billion by 2012.
"Targeted cancer therapies have dramatically reshaped oncology and greatly benefited cancer patients," said Dr. Robert S. Epstein, Medco's chief medical officer. "The newer cancer drugs improve survival rates since they target what fuels the cancer's growth. As some may extend life, they may be used for longer periods of time and improve quality of life for millions of patients. Due to the higher costs of these treatments, however, proper selection and dosing is extremely important."
Combinations of oral oncology drugs and injectable monoclonal antibodies from the biotech industry are big drivers of drug spending and this trend is likely to continue as existing treatments gain additional approvals and new drugs reach the market.
Presently more than 800 drugs are under investigation for treatment of cancer, which is expected to be diagnosed 1.48 million times this year. Early detection and more effective, well-tolerated medications are allowing some cancers to behave like chronic diseases. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer patients today are living longer than a generation ago with the five-year relative survival rate for all cancers combined between 1996-2004 reaching 66 percent, up from 50 percent between 1975-77.
Nearly all the cancer drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the last four years have cost more than $20,000 for a twelve-week course of therapy, while some individual treatments can cost $10,000 per month. Oncology drugs are projected to account for 9 percent of all prescription pharmaceutical spending growth between 2009 and 2011.
To help manage the drug spend in the biotech drug category, in which many of the cancer treatments reside, a regulatory pathway to make lower-cost, generic versions - biosimilars - of these drugs is now under consideration in Congress. If approved, generic biotech drugs could lead to significant savings once the original brand drug loses patent.
Breast cancer drugs to hit market
Many oncology agents in late stage clinical development and several expected to receive approval in 2010 or 2011 will likely have a significant effect on specialty drug spending. Breast cancer could have an array of new treatments, including vandetanib (Zactima(TM)), motesanib, lonafarnib (Sarasar®), and pazopanib. Several of these drugs may be initially approved for other forms of cancer.
Supportive care therapies that help manage the side effects of other cancer treatments represent a considerable share of cancer-related drug costs. In the case of side effects from breast cancer treatment, several treatments that suppress estrogen can contribute to the risk for osteoporosis, and oral or injectable osteoporosis drugs can reduce the risk of skeletal problems and bony metastasis. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments can create additional side effects and new drugs have entered the market to treat those problems. Drugs to treat anemia and neutropenia, both side effects associated with chemotherapy, have been on the market for years. However, supportive care therapies need special attention. Clinicians and patients need to be aware of the safety concerns associated with anemia treatments that require close attention to hemoglobin levels, and consideration of the risk of thrombosis or growth of some tumor types.
Medco Opens Specialized Oncology Care Center
Marking October as the 25th Anniversary of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Medco is making a major commitment to advancing cancer care with the opening of the oncology Medco Therapeutic Resource Center® (TRC) in its new Indianapolis pharmacy. The oncology TRC will focus on the specialized treatment of patients with common cancers such as leukemia, breast, lung, prostate and colon, as well as pediatric cancers. In addition, Medco's new oncology TRC will assist those who are prescribed specialty drugs to maintain or improve their quality of life.
Medco Health Solutions, Inc.