Study: MS Drug Performance Doesn't Live Up to Price

Disease-modifying drugs used to treat multiple sclerosis are eight times too expensive to be cost-effective, a new study suggests.

A new study suggests that disease-modifying drugs used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) deliver little benefit given their high price. The study, published online yesterday by the journal Neurology, found that MS patients using the drugs experience modest health improvement, but the price of this improvement is eight times what is considered reasonable from a cost-effectiveness perspective.

The disease-modifying drugs in question—interferons and glatiramer acetate sold under the names Avonex, Betaseron, Rebif, and Copaxone—were introduced in the 1990s. As opposed to traditional MS therapies, which treat the disease’s symptoms, the newer drugs modify the course of the disease itself. They have been shown to slow the disease’s progression and reduce relapses, but can cost upwards of $30,000 per year.

The study examined data from another survey that followed 844 early-state MS patients for four years and used computer modeling to project the cost of their health care and lost productivity over 10 years. The researchers then calculated how much a Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) cost for a given treatment. (One QALY is equivalent to an additional year of perfect health.) The total cost of a single QALY for MS patients on disease-modifying drugs came out to a staggering $800,000—far more than the $100,000 per QALY that is considered cost-effective.

The results showed that a person taking Avonex for 10 years would gain two months of perfect health, while one taking Copaxone would gain one month of perfect health. One taking Betaseron would have six years free of relapses compared to five years without it. The researchers pointed out that if the price of the drugs were lowered to their level in countries such as Britain, Canada, and Germany—a third what they are in the US—they would be far more cost-effective.

One important thing that the research did not look into was whether the disease-modifying drugs affected the likelihood, timing, or severity of MS progression, which determines how disabling the disease is.

Around the Web

Cost-effectiveness of disease-modifying therapy for multiple sclerosis (Abstract) [Neurology]