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In a sobering report, the World Health Organization concluded that pricing for cancer medicines is “impairing” the ability of governments to provide affordable treatments and recommended a host of potential measures for widening access, such as greater transparency about discounts and R&D costs, differential pricing among countries, and short-term price caps, among other things.

The report, which was issued on the eve of a WHO board meeting, concluded that the “market structure of cancer medicines is characterized by imperfect competition” and there is evidence that individual companies hold a monopoly over specific categories of treatments. The analysis found just three companies accounted for about half of the global market for cancer medicines, based on 2017 sales.


The in-depth analysis also argued that R&D and production costs “may bear little or no relationship” to how prices are set. Drug makers “set prices according to their commercial goals, with a focus on extracting the maximum amount that a buyer is willing to pay for a medicine. This pricing approach often makes cancer medicines unaffordable, preventing the full benefit of the medicines from being realized.”

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