Trends in the costs of drugs launched in the UK between 1981 and 2015: an analysis of the launch price of drugs in five disease areas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

External organisations

  • University of Birmingham


Objectives To investigate the trend in the launch price of new drugs for five common health conditions. Design Cross-sectional study using data on new drugs launched in the UK between 1981 and 2015 for hypertension, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia and colorectal cancer. Data and sources All drugs marketed in the UK between 1981 and 2015 (inclusive), and licensed specifically for the treatment of one of the five chosen conditions were included in the study. Newly launched medicines and their launch prices were identified by hand-searching all editions of the British National Formulary in addition to searching the websites of relevant regulatory agencies (European Medicines Agency and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency). The launch price in UK pounds for a 28-day supply of each medicine at a typical or usual maintenance dose was adjusted for the effects of general inflation using the gross domestic product deflator series. Results 104 drugs were included in our study with a mean inflation-adjusted 28-day launch price of £288 (SD £678). The launch price of new drugs varied significantly across the five conditions, with drugs for hypertension having the lowest mean price (£27) and drugs for colorectal cancer having the highest mean price (£1590) (p<0.001). There were large increases in launch prices across the study period, but the magnitude and pattern was markedly different between therapeutic areas. Biological drugs represented 13.5% of all included drugs and had a significantly higher launch price than non- biological drugs (£1233 vs £141, p<0.001). 22.1% of included drugs were first-of-kind and had a significantly higher launch price than follow-on drugs (£768 vs £151) (p<0.0001). Conclusion Drugs prices continue to increase across different therapeutic areas. This has some association with novelty, but, it is not clear if this increase in price is associated with medical benefits.

Bibliographic note

© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2019. Re-use permitted under CC BY. Published by BMJ.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere027625
JournalBMJ open
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2019


  • Drug pricing, Pharmaceutical innovation, Trends, UK

ASJC Scopus subject areas

Sustainable Development Goals