Study: Drug Costs Likely to Lead to Skyrocketing Multiple Sclerosis Care Burden

APRIL 21, 2017
Jared Kaltwasser

New research estimated that multiple sclerosis (MS) costs the United States (US) at least $24 billion per year, a figure that is expected to grow rapidly in the coming decades as new, costlier therapies are approved.
 
The new MS estimates are part of a wider report that found neurological diseases generally cost the US about $800 million per year.
 
The $24 billion figure was based on spending from 2011, the most recent year for which a comprehensive data set was available. At the time, the total MS population in the US was estimated to be between 400,000 and 600,000 patients. The study’s authors split the difference and made calculations based on 500,000 patients. Those patients had an average direct medical cost of $26,000 per year. Indirect costs were tabulated at an additional $21,000 per patient per year.
 
However, there’s strong evidence to suggest those numbers are significantly higher now, because one of the major factors leading to high costs, even back in 2011, was the high price of MS medications. That year, drug spending accounted for fully 40% of direct medical costs.
 
Since then; however, the number and cost of MS therapies have increased significantly. While that’s good news for patients, it has also led to a significant surge in treatment costs.
 
For instance, the latest “game-changer” in MS therapy, Genentech’s Ocrevus, has a list price of $65,000 per year, well above the overall average MS care cost in 2011. And even though the Ocrevus number dwarfs 2011 spending, it’s actually far lower than the price of many other new MS treatments. In fact, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and others have praised Genentech for showing restraint in their pricing. In a March press release, the MS society urged other drug companies to follow Genentech’s lead.
 
Still, the overall financial toll of neurological diseases like MS is undeniably problematic, according to Clifton Gooch, MD (pictured), a professor at the University of South Florida and the study’s lead author.
 
“The findings of this report are a wake-up call for the nation, as we are facing an already incredible financial burden that is going to rapidly worsen in the coming years,” said Gooch, in a press release. “Although society continues to reap the benefits of the dramatic research investments in heart disease and cancer over the last few decades, similar levels of investment are required to fund neuroscience research focused on curing devastating neurological diseases such as stroke and Alzheimer’s, both to help our patients and also to avoid costs so large they could destabilize the entire health care system and the national economy.”
In their paper, Gooch and colleagues proposed an “action plan” to address rising costs. First, they called for an acceleration of translational research in preventative and disease-modifying therapies. Early detection and intervention, they said, could help curb the higher downstream costs of neurological diseases.
 
Second, they urge more research into the outcomes of therapies and their comparative effectiveness. These types of studies will go a long way toward curbing costs and creating efficiencies, but the authors warned these types of studies are unlikely to be funded by pharmaceutical companies.
 
Third, the researchers want a better way of tracking neurological disease, ideally through a comprehensive national database.
 
Finally, they seek a coordinated “next-level” advocacy push designed to win attention – and money – in an increasingly crowded patient advocacy sector.
 
The study, titled “The Burden of Neurological Disease in the United States: A Summary Report and Call to Action,” was published last month in Annals of Neurology.
 
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