For policy makers at every level of government it is easy to recognize the deep impact of soaring prescription drug prices. Bold headlines, countless hearings, and recent legislation have all raised the alarm about, and floated policy solutions to address, sharp price spikes, sudden shortages, growing out-of-pocket costs, and other serious obstacles to patients’ access.

Much more difficult is the work required to untangle the complicated interplay of forces that are driving prices so high. Health Affairs has long published the work of researchers doing the critical work of identifying, evaluating, and measuring those forces. But just as important is translating that research and providing actionable evidence for an audience beyond academia, particularly for those making policy in both the public and private spheres.

It is with that goal in mind that Health Affairs has embarked on a new project. Today, we are releasing the first four in a series of twelve primers on key issues currently shaping the prescription drug market. Each primer offers a short, accessible overview of the issue and a close examination of how it affects pricing.

These primers are the result of a collaborative effort aimed at providing policy makers the tools they need to approach these issues thoughtfully and deliberately, armed with concrete evidence and the latest research. This spring Health Affairs convened an expert advisory board to help identify and narrow the list of topics on which the primers would focus. We are grateful for the board’s guidance:

  • Aaron Kesselheim, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School
  • Steve Pearson, The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review
  • James Robinson, UC Berkley School of Public Health
  • Stacie Dusetzina, UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy; and,
  • Gail Wilensky, Project HOPE

The primers, drafted in collaboration with Prevision Policy LLC, underwent an independent peer-review and revision process conducted by Health Affairs led by consulting editor Laura Tollen. This project was made possible by generous support from The Commonwealth Fund and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Drug Pricing Lab.

The four briefs released today explore key forces that come into play early along the winding the path from drug development to the pharmacy counter: Expedited Approval Pathways; Pricing Orphan Drugs; Biosimilars; and Patent Settlements. Later this summer and early fall, we will move further along that path, releasing two more sets of primers, plus a series of three white papers laying out potential policy solutions to the challenge of surging prescription drug prices.

Our hope is that these primers will provide a quick, clear, easy-to-use, and impartial foundation for anyone seeking to understand what’s behind the rising price of prescription drugs.