Innovative cancer medicines added to reimbursement list
Reduced prices will make treatments more affordable to those with disease
China has added a range of innovative cancer drugs to a list of medicines eligible for reimbursement from the national insurance system, medical and social security authorities said on Thursday.
In total, 70 new therapies have made it to the expanded list after monthslong price negotiations with authorities, offering an average price reduction of 60.7 percent, according to the National Healthcare Security Administration, who announced the adjustment with the Ministry of Human Affairs and Social Security.
Agreements have been renewed for another 27 products already on the list, with an average price cut of 26.4 percent, said Xiong Xianjun, head of the administration's medical service department.
The new list will take effect on Jan 1, he added.
The administration has been actively negotiating with pharmaceutical companies to lower the prices of their products and reduce the financial burden on patients as part of the country's healthcare reform. In return, drugmakers will get their products onto the national insurance list, which helps increase sales volume.
The latest round of negotiations, launched in early 2019, targeted 150 medicines, with about two-thirds of them striking a deal with the administration, including 22 cancer drugs.
Some drugmakers have provided the lowest prices in the world for Chinese patients, Xiong said.
"It is estimated that due to major price cuts resulting from negotiations and reimbursement from the national medical insurance system, the out-of-pocket amounts paid by patients will drop by between 80 and 95 percent," he said.
The drastic price cuts on lifesaving drugs will prove a boon for the country's cancer patients, who are in urgent need of affordable treatment but are sometimes discouraged by their prohibitive prices.
Some have resorted to purchasing generic, cheap versions from overseas to sustain treatment, a dilemma that was highlighted in the 2018 hit movie Dying to Survive and later drew attention from the central leadership, who called for concerted efforts to make cancer drugs more affordable and guarantee supplies.
The newly-added cancer drugs include a foreign medication that treats myelofibrosis, an acute form of bone marrow cancer. It is known as Jakavi and developed by the multinational giant Novartis.
Deng Yuexin, head of the market access department at Novartis Oncology in China, said the medication, priced at about 8,000 yuan ($1,138) for 60 tablets, will be sold at the world's cheapest price in China. The company won't reveal how much of a discount it has granted to the Chinese market based on a confidentiality agreement with Chinese authorities.
"Last year, we failed to reach an agreement with the administration during the price negotiation due to shifts in our global market expansion strategy, which had saddened many of our Chinese patients," she said. "This time, they are bound to be over the moon."
Eight homegrown drugs have also made it to the list, including Tyvyt, an innovative cancer drug that battles lymph cancer. It was developed by Suzhou-based Innovent Biologics.
He Shiwen, an employee with Innovent, said it has decided to cut prices of Tyvyt by about 64 percent. "Even before the price cut, Tyvyt was significantly cheaper than its counterparts available on Chinese market. The medication is now even more affordable for patients," he said.
Tyvyt belongs to a class of frontier cancer drugs, called PD-1, that boosts a patient's immune system to target and kill tumors. Xiong, with the National Healthcare Security Administration, said price negotiations surrounding PD-1 cancer drugs are likely to see "intense competition" next year.
The updated list now contains 2,709 drugs, 64 more than the original version released in 2017, according to Xiong.
He added that the administration will guide health institutions to stock these drugs in advance and ramp up efforts to build a dynamic mechanism that will facilitate more frequent updates of the reimbursement list.
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