Lynch calls for Congressional Oversight of skyrocketing cancer drug costs

May 13, 2013

Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, a senior member of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, recently called for the Committee to hold an oversight hearing to examine the increasingly exorbitant cost of cancer drugs.  In a letter to Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, Lynch noted that the cost of certain cancer drugs is now exceeding $100,000 per year and that as a direct result, many cancer patients do not have access to life-extending and life-saving treatment. 

Importantly, in April of 2013, the Journal for the American Society of Hematology published a seminal study on skyrocketing cancer drug prices completed by a renowned group of over 100 medical experts in chronic myeloid leukemia, including oncologists at the MD Anderson Center in Houston, Texas, and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, New York.  According to the study (“Price of Drugs for Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, Reflection of the Unsustainable Cancer Drug Prices: Perspective of CML Experts”),  11 of the 12 cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration  in 2012 were priced over $100,000 per year.  In addition, the report notes that cancer drug prices have nearly doubled over the last decade, from an average cost of $5,000 per month to an average monthly cost of more than $10,000.  Moreover, the expert group cites a variety of contributing factors to the rising cost of cancer drugs, including the increase in so-called “pay-for-delay” settlement agreements, under which a brand-name pharmaceutical company can delay the introduction of lower-cost generic drugs by paying a generic manufacturer to hold its competing drug off the market for a given period of time.  According to the Federal Trade Commission, the federal agency responsible for safeguarding American consumers against anticompetitive business practices, pay-for-delay deals cost Americans $3.5 billion annually.  

“It is imperative that Congress conduct robust oversight of the ever-inflating cost of cancer drugs in order to preserve drug affordability and accessibility for all of our nation’s cancer patients,” said Congressman Stephen F. Lynch.  “Given the key role of the House Oversight Committee in examining reports of waste, fraud, and abuse in federal spending, an Oversight hearing on cancer drug pricing would also serve to better ensure that pharmaceutical company profits do not come at the expense of American taxpayer dollars.”

You can read the text of the letter here:

 

May 8, 2013
 

The Honorable Darrell E. Issa                              The Honorable Elijah Cummings      

Chairman                                                              Ranking Member                                    

Committee on Oversight and                                Committee on Oversight and              

Government Reform                                             Government Reform                                                  

2157 Rayburn House Office Building                    2471 Rayburn House Office Building   

Washington, DC 20515                                        Washington, DC 20515
 

Dear Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Cummings:

I am writing to respectfully request that the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform convene a hearing to examine the causes contributing to the alarming cost of cancer drugs. Regrettably, the average cost of these critical drugs has risen to over $100,000 per year and as a result, access to life-extending and life-saving cancer treatment has been increasingly denied to many cancer patients.

As you may know, on April 25, 2013, the American Society of Hematology (ASH) published in its weekly Blood Journal, a seminal report, entitled "Price of drugs for chronic myeloid leukemia  (CML), reflection of the unsustainable cancer drug prices: perspective of CML Experts”, that included contributions from more than 100 international experts in CML. According to the ASH study, a variety of factors have contributed to the rising cost in cancer drug pricing, including price of the most recent similar drug on the market, the cost of bringing a drug to market, and geopolitical and socioeconomic dynamics unrelated to the cost of drug development.  In addition, the report sets forth meaningful steps that we can take in order to lower the prices of these drugs, increase cancer drug accessibility, and maintain sounder health care policies in the long-term with respect to cancer drug treatment.

Prices for cancer drugs have for years been part of the healthcare cost debate.  And the profits earned by pharmaceutical companies come under regular scrutiny.  With the majority of drug research paid for with public funds, and federal regulatory guidelines being an important part of bringing these drugs to market, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has an important role in realizing how we might make these critical lifesaving drugs more affordable and accessible.

In the interest of a full and productive hearing, a range of witnesses representing the perspectives of the Food and Drug Administration, The Federal Trade Commission, the ASH and other cancer treatment professionals, and the pharmaceutical industry, would be helpful. I am sure our capable Committee staff could also add to that list.

Sincerely,

Stephen F. Lynch                                                                                                                                              
Member of Congress