Leukemia Patients Struggle to Pay High Tasigna Cost

    Tasigna cost too high for many leukemia patients

    The FDA made a major press announcement in 2017 about popular cancer drug Tasigna. The press announcement asserted Tasigna patients may potentially discontinue treatment after sustained remission. Prior to the announcement, patients stayed on this drug indefinitely to keep the cancer in check. And with ongoing treatment, the Tasigna cost over time for each patient grows to a staggering amount.

    But thankfully, this latest news gives hope to patients taking Tasigna for their Philadelphia chromosome positive (PH+) and chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). Now, patients can discontinue a drug that causes serious side effects (including severe cardiovascular problems). The steep Tasigna cost — even with insurance coverage — makes it hard for many to sustain treatment. That’s because once you approach the 10-year mark, the Tasigna cost often totals more than a million dollars per patient.

    Tasigna Cost for A Single Leukemia Patient Tops Six Figures Annually

    For insurers, the Tasigna cost to cover a single person equals more than $100,000 each year. This amounts to nearly $8,500 a month. Thanks to this steep Tasigna cost, many leukemia patients can’t afford long-term treatment. But it’s not the actual drug that costs patients so much money. It’s Novartis, the drug’s manufacturer, who controls the total Tasigna cost for insurers and patients alike.

    Tasigna (nilotinib) isn’t the first cancer drug Novartis developed. Novartis first launched Gleevec to treat a rare leukemia back in 2001. That year, Gleevec’s price totaled $26,400 annually. At the time, Gleevec’s cost seemed astronomical. However, Gleevec gets more expensive every year (price increases rise about 5% above annual inflation rates). Today, Gleevec is the biggest revenue-driving medication for Novartis — one of the world’s largest drug makers. A year’s supply currently runs patients a cool $120,000 apiece.

    Novartis launched Tasigna in 2007. Consumers hoped to pay less for it than Gleevec, but Novartis priced Tasigna even higher. Tasigna’s the most expensive option among three popular leukemia drugs, which include Gleevec and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Sprycel. University of Chicago hematologist Dr. Richard Larson spoke about these rising drug costs to The Washington Post‘s Carolyn Johnson. “What has been hard to justify, as competitor drugs have been developed, is they’ve entered the market at higher and higher prices and the price of imatinib (Gleevec) has continued to go up to match them,” says Larson.

    Post reporter Johnson reached out to Novartis via email to ask why the company keeps drug prices so high. Novartis said raising prices is “necessary to reflect not only changing market forces, but also the evolving value of the treatment.” For Novartis, “value” means how much each drug potentially extends a leukemia patient’s life span.

    How Long Before A Generic Version Slashes This Tasigna Cost for Patients?

    Patents protect drug companies from competitors for a certain number of years. This allows the company that developed the drug to profit for their research and testing. It also, however, allows companies to control the pricing on drugs that are potentially life-saving. Patients have no choice but to pay the given price.

    Unfortunately, patients looking for a generic option to reduce their Tasigna cost must wait until the drug’s patent expires in 2023. Patents currently in place prevent competing companies from making a generic Tasigna option. There’s no guarantee a generic version will hit the market shortly after the 2023 patent expiration date, either. Other circumstances can delay or shorten a drug’s exclusivity period (i.e., lawsuits or other patents for new Tasigna uses). Since Novartis faces Tasigna lawsuits nationwide, it may affect the drug’s exclusivity window — but that’s not likely.

    How Cancer Drug’s Marketing Costs Trickle Down To Consumers

    Novartis took a strategic approach to market Tasigna — which may account for its growing popularity. The patent for their original drug, Gleevec, expired in 2015. Tasigna, a new and improved version of Gleevec, is now their cash cow. A generic Gleevec option is available for $40-$50, but that still costs a couple thousand dollars each month. By encouraging patients to use Tasigna instead, they are extending their reign before Tasigna’s patents expire.

    And their plan’s working. In 2012, Tasigna’s sales were $998 million. After Gleevec’s patent expired, many patients switched to Tasigna due to Novartis’ big marketing push in 2015. As a result, FiercePharma’s projected Tasigna sales for 2018 total around $2.584 billion. Patients struggling to pay this high Tasigna cost don’t have many other options. Instead, they shell out their life savings to pay Tasigna’s price, rely on charity or help from patient assistance programs.

    Common Side Effects May Compound Tasigna’s High Asking Price for Patients

    Paying the high Tasigna cost doesn’t stop with patients shelling out the drug’s asking price — they also include its side effects. Common Tasigna side effects include:

    • Nausea
    • Rash
    • Fatigue
    • Itching
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Cough
    • Constipation
    • Joint pain

    All drugs have side effects, and these are common with most chemotherapy drugs. But Tasigna’s more severe complications cause the most concern in the medical community.

    How Dangerous Side Effects Increase the True Tasigna Cost for Patients

    Serious complications add even more money to the true Tasigna cost that patients pay. According to the FDA, Tasigna’s most dangerous side effects can include:

    • Myelosuppression
    • Blockages in the heart or arteries
    • Cardiac and arterial vascular occlusive events
    • Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis and elevated serum lipase)
    • Severe liver damage
    • Abnormal electrolyte levels in the blood
    • Metabolic abnormalities (tumor lysis syndrome)
    • Severe bleeding
    • Drug reactions
    • Total surgical removal of the stomach
    • Fluid retention

    These scary Tasigna side effects show just how groundbreaking the FDA’s announcement was for patients. Being able to discontinue treatment will help free patients from Tasigna’s crushing financial burden faster. Plus, it may also prevent some patients from suffering Tasigna’s most severe, life-altering side effects. But for thousands more, the FDA’s 2017 announcement came too late.

    How Anyone With Tasigna Complications May Qualify for A Cash Settlement

    Filing a lawsuit is the only way to receive compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, and injuries. If you or a loved one developed heart disease while taking Tasigna, you may qualify for a cash settlement. Tasigna’s manufacturer downplayed the drug’s cardiovascular risks on its warning label, marketing materials and packaging.

    To immediately check your own eligibility for compensation, get your free online Tasigna claim evaluation now. Once you’ve submitted your information, an experienced lawyer will call to discuss your case and possible next steps. This phone call is an important first step towards getting the justice and compensation you deserve.

    Related: FDA Issues New Tasigna (Nilotinib) Label for Patients in Remission

    Mandy Voisin

    Mandy Voisin is a freelance writer, blogger, and author of Girls of the Ocean and Star of Deliverance. As an accomplished content marketing consultant, mom of four and doctor's wife, Mandy has written hundreds of articles about dangerous drugs and medical devices, medical issues that impact disabled Americans, veterans' healthcare and workers' compensation issues since 2016.

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