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U.S. Business Study finds increase in prices for skin care drugs, led by Valeant treatments

Valeant’s Targretin gel skin cancer treatment have shot up 18-fold over the past six years to $30,320 per 60 gram tube. While prices for another Valeant skin cancer cream, Carac cream, also surged 18 times to $2,865 for a 30 gram tube.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

The cost of prescription skin treatments has skyrocketed in the United States since 2009, as the burden of escalating drug prices increasingly weighs on family budgets.

Retail prices have surged 401 per cent since 2009 for brand-name drugs for skin conditions, according to research published in JAMA Dermatology, a medical journal. That compares with an overall inflation rate of just 11 per cent during the same period.

Of the 19 brand-name drugs analyzed in the study published Wednesday, price hikes have been most extreme for two drugs made by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., which has been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors for documents tied to its pricing and practices. It is also under investigation by several members of Congress. The Canada-based company has acquired smaller drug developers and then raised prices of their medicines.

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Costs for Valeant's Targretin gel skin cancer treatment have shot up 18-fold over the past six years to $30,320 per 60 gram tube. Prices for a separate Valeant skin cancer cream, Carac cream, also surged 18 times to $2,865 for a 30 gram tube.

But the study found that dramatic price hikes are common across the pharmaceutical industry. Prices for generic skin treatment drugs climbed 279 per cent between 2011 and 2014.

Health insurers increasingly pass those costs onto patients, as health plans have limited coverage options, the study noted.

The analysis by Dr. Steven Rosenberg, a dermatologist, and his daughter, Miranda Rosenberg, a third-year medical student at the University Pennsylvania, did not identify a source of the higher drug costs. But the expense of development and marketing of drugs, along with profit-taking and a dependent customer base all appear to have contributed to the broader increase in drug prices.

A report published in May by the pharmacy-benefits company Express Scripts found that 576,000 Americans spent at least $50,000 on prescription drugs in 2014, a sum roughly equivalent to the U.S. median household income. The number of people paying in excess of $50,000 a year had increased 63 per cent from 2013.

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