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'This Is Simply Price Gouging': Cost of Cancer Drug Hiked 1,400% Since 2013

"This is a Shkreliesque move, and is near to first degree murder as one can get without risking jail," said one critic, referencing the Big Pharma CEO that infamously raised the price of an AIDS treatment.

Gleostine, also called lomustine

Gleostine, also called lomustine, is a 40-year-old cancer drug used to treat brain tumors and Hodgkin's lymphoma. (Photo: NextSource Pharmaceuticals)

Critics of the pharmaceutical industry have expressed outrage over a Wall Street Journal analysis that found the owner of a 40-year-old cancer drug used to treat brain tumors and Hodgkin's lymphoma has hiked the cost of the medication by 1,400 percent since acquiring it in 2013.

Lomustine, which was introduced in 1976, "has no generic competition, giving seller NextSource Biotechnology LLC significant pricing power," the Journal reports, noting that lomustine is just "one of at least 319 drugs for which U.S. patents have expired but which have no generic copies, according to a list the agency published earlier this month."

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reportedly working to speed up the approval process for generic versions of these drugs, some critics say the report demonstrates a need for a broader overhaul of the nation's healthcare system, with the Robin Hood Tax campaign citing it as evidence for "why we need" Medicare For All, which has been promoted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and a growing number of Democrats in Congress.

Some critics compared the hikes to a similar move by Martin Shkreli, the founder of Turing Pharmaceuticals who provoked public condemnation after hiking the price of a life-saving AIDS drug called Daraprim by more than 5,000 percent. (He was later convicted of defrauding investors while he served as head of another drug company.)

NextSource, which rebranded lomustine as Gleostine, defended the hikes in a published statement, claiming that it based the decision to raise prices nine times over just four years "on a number of factors including product development costs, regulatory agency fees, class of product, benefit the treatment delivers to patients, and other determinants."

However, "the price hikes after the change in ownership are similar to what some other companies including Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and Turing Pharmaceuticals have done in recent years," the Journal notes, detailing how NextSource has repeatedly increased the price of 40-year-old drug:

For many years, lomustine was marketed under the brand name CeeNU by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., which charged about $50 a capsule for the highest dose, before selling the product in 2013.

Now, the same capsule costs about $768, after nine price increases by a little-known Miami startup, NextSource, which supplies lomustine in a deal with the drug's new owner, manufacturer CordenPharma.

NextSource...most recently raised the price by 12 percent in November, on the heels of a 20 percent increase in August, according to analyses drug-price tracker Truven Health Analytics and Elsevier performed for the Wall Street Journal. Prices also have increased significantly for other doses of the drug.

"This is simply price gouging, period," concluded Henry Friedman, a neuro-oncologist at Duke University who wrote an editorial criticizing the lomustine price hikes earlier this year. "People are not going to be able to afford it, or they're going to pay a lot of money and have financial liability."

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