With the expiration in January of the patent on Gleevec, the drug that 15 years ago changed chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) from a death sentence to a treatable illness, insurance companies and patients have the opportunity to realize huge cost savings, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.
The researchers, publishing online this month in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, say that if all CML patients were started upon diagnosis on the generic form of Gleevec, known as imatinib, the cost of treatment per patient over five years would be nearly $100,000 less than it is now. Most CML patients require lifelong, daily medication.
This means that a health insurer with 100 patients with chronic myeloid leukemia could save $9.1 million over five years. CML is a relatively rare cancer that starts inside the bone marrow. Roughly 6,000 Americans are diagnosed with it every year and up to 90 percent survive five years on drugs like Gleevec, which is manufactured and sold by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation.
“If we start all patients on the generic form of Gleevec and it works, then they are on a generic for the rest of their lives,” says study leader Dr. William V. Padula, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins. “This amounts to a huge cost savings for them and their insurers.”