Specialty drug spending problem? I think not.

An AP article that I found thanks to Drugwonks is proclaiming that there is a problem with spending on specialty drugs. These “specialty drugs” are medicines like Humira, Remicade, and others — that is, biologics.

Specialty drugs are typically biotech medications that treat complex, chronic conditions and often need to be injected. Spending on such drugs reached $40 billion last year or 19 percent of the total on all medicines, according to Express Scripts Inc., a Missouri-based pharmacy benefit manager.


The explosive growth is spending on specialty drugs is especially problematic because there is no pathway for generic competitors to enter the market.

While it’s true that it is somewhat more difficult for biologic generics to be approved, the vast majority of them are still protected by patents in the United States, so the issue is largely moot for now.

An average prescription for an inflammatory disease costs $1,417.

Drugs to treat blood clotting factor deficiencies such as hemophilia registered a 25 percent spending increase, the second largest rise in the group. Annual treatment costs about $100,000 per patient.

Spending on cancer drugs known as antineoplastics, which were administered outside a doctor’s office, rose 19.2 percent, the third largest jump. The price per prescription rose by almost 15 percent to nearly $1,600 on average, making inflation the primary driver of the spending increase.

The points missed by the AP article are that the number of hospitalizations is reduced, spending on marginally-effective drug therapies reduced, complications from multi-drug regimens is reduced, and most significantly, the overall quality of life for these patients is HUGELY improved because of the reasons stated above, as well as the fact that their therapeutic outcomes are better.

While it may cost $1,417 for a month’s supply of Humira, it can cost that much for one night’s hospitalization. A fact conveniently left out of the article.

Everyone is winning with these advanced new therapies: patients, doctors, insurers, and drug companies. But only if you look at all of the factors involved. Articles like this one make me cringe: just last week I heard a patient say to someone else as she was waiting that she “read it in the paper, so it must be true.” People have enough FUD in their lives without the MSM adding to it with horribly slanted “news” articles which are nothing more than regurgitated press releases. (You’ll notice the press release says nothing about about the lack of generics being a problem, and mainly talks about how Express Scripts is saving money in the face of higher prices. I guess tossing throwaway additions into a press release counts as journalism these days.)

[tags]Medicine, pharmacy, drug spending, drug prices, bad journalism, journalism, biotech, biologics[/tags]

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