The UK is paying less for new cancer drugs than most other countries in Europe, a new report has found.

The study in The Lancet Oncology also reveals that the prices of such drugs vary widely – from 28 percent to 388 percent – between high-income European countries, Australia, and New Zealand.

The study looked at 31 originator (under patent) drugs and found that overall the UK and Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Spain, and Portugal pay the lowest average unit manufacturer prices for them, whereas Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany pay the highest prices.

"Public payers in Germany are paying 223 percent more in terms of official prices for interferon alfa 2b for melanoma and leukaemia treatment than those in Greece," says lead author Dr Sabine Vogler from the WHO Collaborating Centre for Pharmaceutical Pricing and Reimbursement Policies. "For gefitinib to treat non-small-lung cancer, the price in Germany is 172 percent higher than in New Zealand.”

The research also highlighted the overall high prices of new cancer treatments in Europe. None of the 31 drugs reviewed had a unit price lower than €10. Almost a quarter (twenty-three percent) had an average unit price higher than €1000. Four drugs (thirteen percent) had an average price between €250 and €500; for two drugs (six percent) it was between €500 and €1000.

The difference between the prices of drugs between the highest and lowest priced countries ranged from 28 percent to 50 percent for a third of the drugs sampled, between 50 percent and 100 percent for half of the drugs, and between 100 percent and 200 percent for three drugs (ten percent).

A particular problem noted by the authors is that patient access discounts on these prices – which are increasingly used to gain approval in the UK and some other countries – are usually confidential, meaning that other countries risk overpaying as they can only use the official undiscounted prices as a benchmark.

Volger adds: “We hope that our findings will provide concrete evidence for policymakers to take action to address high prices and ensure more transparency in cancer drug pricing so that costs and access to new drugs does not depend on where a patient lives."