Cancer drug prices vary widely across Europe, study finds

LONDON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - The cost of cancer drugs varies substantially across Europe, experts said on Friday in a new analysis that is likely to fuel debate about the rising cost of modern medicines.

The United States pays the highest price in the world for patented prescription drugs. A Reuters report in October found that U.S. prices for the world’s 20 top-selling medicines were, on average, three times higher than in Britain.

But there are also wide gaps in Europe, according to Wim van Harten of the Netherlands Cancer Institute and colleagues, writing in the journal Lancet Oncology.

Comparing the cost of cancer drugs in 15 European countries in June and July 2015, they found that official or list prices differed by up to 92 percent between countries, while actual prices paid, after discounts, varied by as much as 58 percent.

Some countries, like France and the Netherlands, showed almost no difference between official and actual prices for drugs from companies including Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb, while others such as Spain achieved substantial discounts, they reported.

“This calls for joint action by countries and medical societies with the pharmaceutical industry, since fast and equitable access to promising new drugs is important to improving treatment results,” the researchers said.

Drug prices have emerged as a hot political issue on both sides of the Atlantic, with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton firing up the issue recently by pledging to rein in costs.

Pricing is also a point of conflict in parts of Europe, including Britain, where the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has triggered protests by ruling that some new medicines are too expensive for use on the state health system.

Drugmakers, who argue they need high prices as a reward for risks taken in developing novel drugs, have recently brought a bumper haul of new treatments to market, many of them for cancer. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Susan Thomas)