PhRMA Undercuts Own Rhetoric by Showing the Cancer Drug Pipeline is Growing Larger

Oops. Big Pharma accidentally helped debunk one of the myths perpetuated by the pharmaceutical industry this week about the impact of drug pricing solutions on the innovation pipeline.

In June, PhRMA distributed a press release on an industry-commissioned analysis claiming that drug pricing provisions passed by Congress, and signed into law by the president, last year would undermine the ability of drug makers to develop cancer medicines.

On Thursday, The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) released a report stating that there are currently 1,600 cancer treatments and vaccines in development. The new report shows there are now 300 more cancer medicines in development after the passage of that law than the industry reported were in development (1,300) in December 2020, before the law was passed.

This is yet another reminder that Big Pharma’s oft-repeated refrain that solutions to lower drug prices will undermine innovation are bogus.

The root causes of the affordability crisis for cancer drugs are the egregious pricing practices of brand name drug companies, including repeated price hikes on existing treatments and sky-high launch prices on new medications being introduced to the market.

Prices on 54 Cancer Drugs Increased 40 Percent Over Eight Years: “The affordability problem is worsened by soaring list prices for many specialty drugs used to treat cancer and other serious diseases… For instance, prices for 54 orally administered cancer drugs shot up 40 percent from 2010 to 2018, averaging $167,904 for one year of treatment, according to a 2019 JAMA study. Bristol Myers Squibb, the manufacturer of Clark’s drug, Pomalyst, has raised the price 75 percent since it was approved in 2013, to about $237,000 a year.” (“Seniors Face Crushing Drug Costs as Congress Stalls on Capping Medicare Out-Of-Pockets,” Kaiser Health News, January 4, 2021, Harris Meyer)

Cancer Drug Price Hikes Outpace Inflation: “The cost of oral cancer drugs increased by almost six percent over inflation from 2010 to 2018, leading to increases in out-of-pocket costs for Medicare patients despite reductions in the Part D coverage gap, according to an analysis of formulary and pricing data.” (“Costs of Oral Cancer Drugs Rising Faster than Inflation,” MDedge, May 28, 2019, Richard Franki)

List Prices for New Cancer Drugs Rose More Than 50 Percent in Five Years: “It wasn’t all that long ago that a six-figure price on a debut cancer drug was big news. Now, it would be more surprising if an oncology launch didn’t carry a price tag of $100,000 or more—and the high cost of those new rollouts is helping drive cancer treatment costs toward $100 billion annually in the U.S. alone. According to a new IQVIA report, U.S. cancer drug spending climbed to almost $50 billion last year, about twice the $24.8 billion spent in 2012. Along the way, median U.S prices for new therapies climbed above $160,000 last year, more than double the median $79,000 launch price in 2013.” (“Super-Pricey New Cancer Drugs Drive Mega Increases in Treatment Spending,” FiercePharma, May 24, 2018, Eric Sagonowsky)

Every New Cancer Drug Brought To Market In 2017 Cost $100,000 Or More: “Spending on cancer drugs has doubled over the past five years, and little wonder: Every new cancer drug brought to market last year cost $100,000 or more, according to a new report. The average cost of a new drug released in 2017 was $150,000, according to the report from The IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, formerly IMS Health and Quintiles. Those drug costs are expected to double again by 2022, the report finds. That compares to the average $79,000 cost of new cancer drugs that hit the market in 2013.” (“Cancer Drug Spending Doubled In Last 5 Years, Report Says,” NBC News, May 24, 2018, Maggie Fox)

Drug Companies’ Price Hikes Costing Patients and Taxpayers: “Drugmakers raised prices on more than 400 drugs in the early days of 2020, including two blockbuster cancer treatments that have been top-expenditure drugs in Medicare Part B, according to healthcare analysts and CMS data… Two of the 10 physician-administered drugs that Medicare spent the most money on in 2018 have seen price increases this January, healthcare research firm 3 Axis Advisors found… Merck instituted a price increase of 1.5 percent for Keytruda, the second-highest expenditure Medicare Part B drug in 2018. Bristol-Myers Squibb increased the price for Opdivo, a drug used to treat small cell lung cancer, by 1.5 percent. Opdivo was the third-highest Part B expenditure drug in 2018.” (“Two Blockbuster Cancer Drugs see New Year Price Hikes,” Modern Healthcare, January 3, 2020, Rachel Cohrs)

Big Pharma has also consistently used the excuse that research and development (R&D) costs justify out-of-control prescription drug prices and that solutions to lower prices threaten innovation into new breakthroughs. These tired arguments, which Big Pharma wields like a shield to protect the industry’s anti-competitive and price-hiking practices, simply don’t hold up to scrutiny.


Multiple studies have found Big Pharma’s price hikes have little to no connection to the cost of its development or improvements in drugs’ efficacy. In other words, brand name drug companies set launch prices and hike prices to maximize profits — not because there is any connection to innovation.


And while Big Pharma tries to obfuscate their out-of-control list prices by invoking “innovation,” the industry has gotten a huge boost in recent years from taxpayer dollars in the form of taxpayer-funded research at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

The crisis of affordability around cancer drugs is yet another example of why lawmakers must continue to pursue solutions to lower prescription drug prices and hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable.

Read more about Big Pharma’s bogus innovation rhetoric HERE.

And learn more about how Big Pharma’s pricing practices have driven a crisis of affordability for America’s cancer patients HERE.

Read more on solutions to hold Big Pharma accountable and lower prescription drug prices HERE.

Sign-up for updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.