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Drug Pricing in 2018: The Top 10 Toughest Pills to Swallow


As 2018 comes to a close, we look back at a year filled with soaring drug prices and gamesmanship by drug companies to delay competition. The negative impact has touched too many Americans struggling to access the medicines they need. Ending the delay tactics and ongoing price hikes by drug manufacturers will be critical to finding meaningful solutions for patients, containing costs and enabling purchasers to continue to provide coverage.

The top ten list released today reminds us of the worst abuses by drug companies in 2018 and the urgent need to make 2019 different – a new year’s resolution worth keeping.

  1. Price hikes far outnumber price reductions. In September 2018, an analysis by The Associated Press found that in the first seven months of 2018, drug companies’ price hikes outnumbered price cuts by a 96-to-1 ratio.
  2. Seniors hit hard by Pharma price hikes. A September 2018 study by the AARP Policy Institute found that list prices for the prescription drugs most widely-used by seniors rose by an average of 8.4% in 2017.
  3. Price hikes “paused” after two increases in 2018. In July 2018, Roche announced that it would abstain from additional price increases in 2018. However, the announcement came after they had already hiked prices twice on their products, including their best-selling drugs, Herceptin, Rituxan and Avastin.
  4. Pfizer pauses then resumes hiking prices for existing drugs. Despite temporarily refraining from price hikes on 41 of their drugs over the summer, Pfizer announced they would return to “business as normal” in 2019. In 2017, Pfizer raised prices for its drugs by an average of 20% over the course of the year.
  5. Celgene continues to hike prices for Revlimid. In July 2018, Celgene announced it would hike the price of its multiple myeloma treatment Revlimid by 5%. While that might seem modest, it capped a series of price hikes that Celgene used to inflate the price of Revlimid by 25% over 18 months.
  6. AbbVie builds a “fortress” of patent protection around Humira. In September 2018, I-MAK released a special report on Humira as part of its “Overpatented, Overpriced” series, showing that AbbVie filed 247 patent applications for Humira. Half of the patent applications were filed after 2014, more than 20 years after initial research began.
  7. Amgen uses patent thicket to delay competition on Enbrel by 39 years. In December 2018, I-MAK released a report adding to its “Overpatented, Overpriced” series showing how Amgen filed 72% of its total patent applications for Enbrel after its original approval by the FDA. Amgen’s 57 patent applications in total could allow it to delay competition on Enbrel by 39 years.
  8. AbbVie pays to delay competition for Humira. In November 2018, Humira signed an agreement with Pfizer to delay its generic version of Humira until 2023, its seventh pay-for-delay deal with a potential competitor. The agreement means that patients will need to wait six years after AbbVie’s patent for Humira expires before accessing generic competition.
  9. Pharma’s REMS abuses draw FDA ire. In May 2018, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called out brand drug companies for abusing the REMS program to block affordable generic competition from the market. To discourage future bad actors, Commissioner Gottlieb publicly released a list of inquiries from generic drug companies who reported having trouble accessing testing samples they need from brand drug companies in order to come to market.
  10. Drug companies capture majority of spending. A July 2018 study published in Health Affairs by Nancy L. Yu, Preston Atteberry and Peter B. Bach found that over two-thirds of total U.S. spending on pharmaceutical drugs in 2016 accrued to drug manufacturers as net revenues. As the U.S. considers changes to spending in the drug supply chain, their analysis suggests that “understanding those consequences will be important.”

About the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs

CAPD is a broad-based group of health care purchasers – employers, public sector employees and retirees, unions – and the PBMs they work with on behalf of patients to keep medicine affordable. To learn more, please visit our website at