Health

Company removes brain tumor drug from Medicare – meaning patients will have to pay $1,000 per pill

A key drug used to fight hard-to-treat brain tumors has been removed from Medicare in a decision that experts say will cause people to die. 

Lomustine, which is sold under the brand name Gleostine, is being removed from the Medicaid drug rebate program, by its developer, NextSource Biotechnology. Ph 

The drug is one of the key treatment for glioblastoma patients, who have tumors that grow very fast and spread very quickly.

It is the same cancer that led to the deaths of Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) and Beau Biden, President Joe Biden‘s eldest son.   

Patients who need the drug will now need to purchase it themselves if their state does not dedicate Medicare dollars towards it.

NextSource Biotechnology purchased the drug in 2013, when it sold for a price of $50 per pill.

They have since raised the price by about 1,900 percent to as much as $1,000 per individual pill.  

Glioblastoma is a brain cancer that leads to tumors on a persons brain. Picture: A brain scan showing a glioblastoma tumor

NextSource Biotechnology is removing Gleostine from the Medicaid rebate program after increasing the drug's price by 1,900%. Patients who need the drug may need to pay $1,000 per pill out of pocket to continue treatment

NextSource Biotechnology is removing Gleostine from the Medicaid rebate program after increasing the drug’s price by 1,900%. Patients who need the drug may need to pay $1,000 per pill out of pocket to continue treatment

‘There are lots of people right now who are not getting the drug,’ DR Henry Friedman, a professor of neurosurgery at Duke University School of Medicine, told CBS MoneyWatch.

WHAT IS GLIOBLASTOMA? 

Glioblastomas are tumors that arise from astrocytes, the star-shaped cells that make up the supportive tissue of the brain.

These tumors are usually highly malignant. They’re grade IV tumors, which means they can grow fast and spread quickly.

Almost one in five tumors that start in the brain are glioblastomas.

Approximately 14,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. 

Signs and symptoms:

  • Persistent headaches
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Trouble with concentrating
  • Trouble with speaking
  • Double or blurred vision 

Treatment options to slow and control tumor growth:

1) Surgery

The goal is to remove as much of the tumor as possible. In high-risk areas of the brain, the surgeon may not be able to remove all of a tumor.

2) Radiation

Radiation is used to kill as many leftover tumor cells as possible after surgery and slow growth of inoperable tumors.

3) Chemotherapy 

Temozolomide is the most common chemotherapy drug used for glioblastoma, although it can cause short-term side effects.

Survival rates:

One-year rate: 37.2 percent

Five-year rate: 5.1 percent

Ten-year rate: 2.6 percent

‘There are patients who can’t afford the drug, and other drugs may not be as effective.’

He also noted that some patients will likely die because of this decision. 

NextSource, which is based in Miami, posted a statement on its website explaining the reason for the price-hike. 

One of the reasons NextSource lists for price increase is that it supplies bottles at low costs to the government for use in the Medicaid program, which it will no longer be a part of.

However, NextSource has not indicated if it will now lower prices in response.

The company notably took part in none of the research or development of the drug, which it purchased it in 2013, nearly 40 years after Gleostine was developed in 1976.

‘It’s all greed,’ Friedman told CBS. 

‘Why do you take a drug for which you do no research and development and raise the price 1,400 percent? All they did was rebrand it, a drug that was out there forever,’ 

Research and development are often the most expensive part of selling a drug.  

‘Lomustine is one of only three FDA-approved chemotherapies for patients with glioblastoma and the one that most patients receive when their tumor progresses on first line temozolomide chemotherapy.’ Dr Patrick Wen, director of the Center for Neuro-Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, told CBS.  

Since the average age of a patient with the condition is 65 years old, the removal of the drug from Medicare will effect around half of people who develop glioblastoma. 

The median age of diagnoses for the condition is 64 as well, and it occurs in 3.21 out of every 100,000 people per the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

The highly-malignant tumors that come with the condition arise out of cells that make up supportive tissue in the brain.

Almost 20 percent of all brain tumors are glioblastomas.

‘The only other treatment is avastin. Lomustine is also the standard-of-care treatment used in the control arm of most recurrent glioblastoma clinical trials, and not having easy access to this drug has an important impact on research to find better treatments for this devastating cancer,’ Dr Wen continued.

Around 14,000 new cases of the condition are diagnosed every year, and more than half of patients diagnosed with the condition will die within the first year.

It is often treated using chemotherapy or brain surgery. 

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