The Cost of Drugs

The New York Times ran this story about the increasing cost of a drug.

"The medicine, also known as Mustargen, was developed more than 60 years ago and is among the oldest chemotherapy drugs. For decades, it has been blended into an ointment by pharmacists and used as a topical treatment for a cancer called cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, a form of cancer that mainly affects the skin.

Last August, Merck, which makes Mustargen, sold the rights to manufacture and market it and Cosmegen, another cancer drug, to Ovation Pharmaceuticals, a six-year-old company in Deerfield, Ill., that buys slow-selling medicines from big pharmaceutical companies.

The two drugs are used by fewer than 5,000 patients a year and had combined sales of about $1 million in 2004.

Now Ovation has raised the wholesale price of Mustargen roughly tenfold and that of Cosmegen even more, according to several pharmacists and patients."

What is invidious about this particular example is that many of the arguments that justify drug company costs aren't here. The drug is more than sixty years old, so there has been no cost to its development. There is no need to develop a manufacturing facility because one already exists.

This is not, of course, only a US thing. The increasing success of medicine and, in particular, the cost of drugs is pinching the limited resources of the NHS. As the Sunday Times said the other day We can control it, but can we afford it.

The problem of affording cancer care is only going to get worse.