May 17, 2007 / 4:03 AM / 13 years ago

Diabetes drug costs could soar 70 pct by '09: report

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A growing diabetes epidemic and more aggressive treatment with combination drug therapies could result in a rise of nearly 70 percent in drug spending on the disease through 2009, according to a report released on Thursday by Medco Health Solutions Inc.

Medco’s 2007 Drug Trend Report found diabetes treatments trailing only cholesterol medications in total prescription drug spending growth in 2006.

“There are going to be a lot more drugs coming out and more and more people with type 2 diabetes will catapult diabetes to the number one class in driving year over year spending growth,” Dr. Lon Castle, director of medical policy for Medco, said in an interview.

The analysis projects that, by 2009, spending on medicines to treat diabetes could soar by 60 percent to 68 percent from 2006 levels.

Spending on diabetes treatments increased 14.5 percent from 2005 to 2006 and the use of diabetes drugs increased 5.1 percent. The U.S. sales of diabetes drugs reached $9.88 billion in 2005, according to data from IMS Health Inc..

An aging population and the alarming rise in obesity — a leading cause of diabetes — are expected to push spending growth rates on diabetes drugs up 16 percent to 20 percent annually.

Use is expected to increase by 8 percent to 10 percent each year, with patients more frequently using new drug combinations to reach target blood sugar levels, the Medco analysis of likely future prescription drug spending and utilization found.

A wave of new diabetes treatments, such as Merck & Co.’s, Januvia, and Byetta from Eli Lilly and Co. and Amylin Pharmaceuticals Inc.; and others expected to hit the market from the likes of Novartis AG and Novo Nordisk A/S will help push up treatment costs, the report said.

Some newer drugs that act on new targets are increasingly being prescribed as first-line therapy and are frequently being used in combination with other drugs, driving up costs this year and going forward, the report said.

Use of lower cost generic drugs could mitigate pricing pressures, said Medco, a pharmacy benefits manager that negotiates prescription drug costs for companies and other large clients.

But while new medicines and combination therapies can be expensive, the cost of treating complications from untreated diabetes would create a much larger burden on government and private health plans and patient pocketbooks.

“Diabetes and, in particular, type 2 diabetes, is becoming much more prevalent among people of all ages,” Medco Chief Medical Officer Robert Epstein said in a statement.

“While prevention of type 2 diabetes needs to be a national priority, drug treatments can help prevent the onset of complications from diabetes that lead to hospitalizations, more complex treatment and dramatically higher costs,” Epstein said.

“For those patients who depend on medications to avoid serious complications, compliance is paramount.”

Health plan initiatives to encourage more preventive care can also curb spending growth, the report said.

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