Costs of disease-modifying MS therapies doubled in 7 years

Researchers have determined that, in the USA, costs of disease-modifying multiple sclerosis (MS) drug therapies more than doubled between 2011 and 2017, despite the market introduction of a generic version of one the most commonly prescribed drugs.

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Researchers from Oregon State University (OR, USA) have analyzed data on Medicaid drug utilization across the USA and determined that the costs of disease-modifying multiple sclerosis (MS) drug therapies almost tripled between 2011 and 2017, despite the market introduction of a generic version of one the most commonly prescribed drugs.

Disease-modifying therapies, such as glatiramer acetate – the most commonly prescribed disease-modifying drug for MS – are essential for reducing the frequency and/or severity of MS flare-ups and improving the health status and quality of life for individuals with MS.

In this study, researchers analyzed Medicaid data concerning the utilization and associated costs of various disease-modifying MS therapies between 2011 and 2017; investigators observed that healthcare spending on 15 of these drugs increased from US$453 million in 2011 to US$1.32 billion in 2017.

Following adjustment for mean rebates paid to Medicaid, costs of disease-modifying MS therapies were still observed to significantly increase from US$278 million each year to US$600 million, over the course of the study.

Lead study author Daniel Hartung (Oregon State University) explained: “Increased spending was primarily driven by increases in prescription costs, which doubled during this time period.”

“Most of these drugs cost more than US$70,000 per year on average and costs for these drugs are among the highest drug cost areas for private insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid. Unfortunately for people with MS, the introduction of a generic drug had a minimal effect on prices overall,” Hartung continued.

Oftentimes, when there is large drug demand, competition has been deemed the most effective and sustainable means of lowering drug costs. In the latter half of 2015, a generic version of glatiramer acetate was introduced to the market. Despite this, costs of brand-name glatiramer acetate immediately increased by US$441 per prescription.

Hartung commented: “Before the introduction of the generic drug, the maker of the brand name drug worked to push its market share from the 20 mg dose to the 40 mg dose, which was not interchangeable with the new generic. The low market share for the generic drug was also because the generic drug was only 15% less expensive than the brand name drug…”

An additional generic version of glatiramer acetate was marketed in 2017; following this, the proportion of all generic glatiramer acetate rose to 36%. The study authors attribute this increase to the fact that the company who marketed the second generic glatiramer acetate significantly lowered their drug cost, making it the cheapest available disease-modifying MS therapy.

Hartung concluded: “…there is an urgent need for more robust competition from generics within these MS drugs.”


Hartung DM, Johnston KA, Geddes J, Bourdette DN. Effect of generic glatiramer acetate on spending and use of drugs for multiple sclerosis. Neurology. doi:org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000008936 (2020) (Epub ahead of print);

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Ilana Landau

Assistant Editor, Future Science Group

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