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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Lilly Lung-Cancer Drug Stirs Price Debate

Written by: | | Dated: Thursday, August 27th, 2015

An experimental Eli Lilly (LLY 3.26 %) & Co. lung-cancer drug hasn’t reached the market, but some doctors are already arguing its price should be below average because the drug extended patient lives by only six to seven weeks in a clinical trial.


The pre-emptive price proposal—published on Thursday by the medical journal JAMA Oncology—highlights the rising debate over drug pricing. Cancer doctors have become increasingly vocal, saying the costs don’t seem to be tied to the benefits provided by the drugs. Last month, more than 100 oncologists published an editorial in a medical journal calling for measures to control prices.

Indianapolis-based Lilly has applied for U.S. regulatory approval to market the drug, necitumumab, for the treatment of a form of advanced lung cancer and expects a Food and Drug Administration decision by the end of this year.

A Lilly spokeswoman said it was premature to discuss pricing because the drug hasn’t been approved yet.

In a clinical trial, patients who received necitumumab with chemotherapy lived six to seven weeks longer, on average, than those who received chemotherapy alone, extending median overall survival to about 11½ months from the start of treatment. The Lilly drug also increased the risk for certain adverse events such as blood clots.


Based on the clinical data, the price of necitumumab should be no more than about $1,745 a month per patient, doctors and researchers from Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology say in the JAMA Oncology paper.

In comparison, most new cancer drugs cost more than $10,000 a month per patient in the U.S., said Daniel Goldstein, an oncologist and research fellow at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and lead author of the paper.

Necitumumab “should have a relatively low price given the low level of efficacy that it’s providing,” he said in an interview. Conversely, Dr. Goldstein said drugs providing greater efficacy should command higher prices, under what he and others call a “value-based” drug pricing system.

“The notion of value-based pricing would incentivize researchers and industry to develop truly game-changing innovation” and reduce the incentive for treatments “which add just a few weeks of life for patients,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Lilly said the pricing of cancer medicines is complex, and it is difficult to assess value. She said the form of lung cancer that necitumumab treats—known as squamous non-small cell lung cancer—is difficult to treat, and few advances have been made in recent years.

Several members of an expert committee advising the FDA said at a meeting in July that the survival benefit for necitumumab appeared modest, but that it was important for doctors and patients to have more treatment options for a difficult form of lung cancer. The panel didn’t conduct a vote on whether the FDA should approve the drug.


Updated Aug. 27, 2015 1:08 p.m. ET

Write to Peter Loftus at

Source: Wall Street Journal Health

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