New cancer drugs expensive in the Netherlands compared to EU

The prices for new drugs to battle various forms of cancer are higher in the Netherlands than in many other European countries, according to a recent study conducted by the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek institute for cancer research and treatment.

The Netherlands is one of the top three countries with the highest prices for seven out of the nine drugs that were part of the study, compared to 14 other European nations.

The study, led by the Dutch Cancer Institute, also concluded that there is no clear reason for the wide discrepancy in pricing for the same cancer drugs in different countries. Twenty-one cancer institutes from 15 countries participated in the study.

Different pricing agreements

In addition to collecting the official prices of the drugs in each country, the researchers also determined what hospitals actually pay for these drugs.

Hospitals tend to have pricing agreements with various drug companies in order to pay a lower price than the official one. These discounts also differ from country to country, and range from a few percent to more than 50 percent in some cases.

Prof.dr. Wim van Harten, from the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital in Amsterdam, says the different pricing agreements are not the reason for the major differences in prices across Europe.

Increased transparency necessary

Van Harten, who was in charge of this study, says that the researchers established that these differences exist, but that they cannot explain why. For this reason he is asking for more transparency from the pharmaceutical industry in how they set their prices in each country.

Cost/benefit analysis of new treatments

The study also established that the official list prices for these cancer drugs are higher than what they end up being in reality.

Van Harten states that, currently, the cost/benefit analysis is made based on those official prices received from the pharmaceutical companies, not the actual prices.

The potential implication is that certain new and very expensive drugs will unnecessarily not be made available to patients.

Budget increase needed

Even if prices for cancer drugs can be lowered in the Netherlands, van Harten states that the budget for the Dutch healthcare system will have to be increased in order to make new and promising cancer drugs available to Dutch patients in the future.

The other participating countries: Romania, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Estonia, Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Belgium and Norway.

The study was conducted in cooperation with researchers in Cambridge, Paris and Aviano (Italy). The full results for all participating countries can be found in the December 4 issue of Lancet Oncology magazine.

Thomas Lundberg


Thomas Lundberg

Born as a Swede in the Netherlands, this life-long expat has spent his time in Belgium, the United States and Amsterdam. He began his professional career as a regional news...

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