Recent articles have shed light on an issue of concern for patients who access imatinib mesylate as part of their treatment for Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) through online pharmacies.

Despite the positive clinical benefits of TKIs (tyrosine kinase inhibitors) like imatinib, the high cost involved continues to be a barrier to access treatment. Therefore, patients may seek online pharmacies and less legitimate sites to access treatment at a much lower cost.

According to a recent article in Cancer Therapy Advisor1, which cites a study from The Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network2, there are numerous illegitimate online pharmacies dispensing the drug without “appropriate evaluation for response, drug interactions and adverse effects.” These online pharmacies dispense the drug and are not certified and vetted for compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

The article stated that after screening 44 online pharmacies selling imatinib to people living in the United States they found that, “More than half of the pharmacies investigated (52%) were classified as “rogue,” which means they engage in illegal, unsafe, or misleading activities, such as selling counterfeit, misbranded, or expired products. Thirty percent of the pharmacies were classified as “unapproved,” which indicates that they have some problem with regulatory compliance, but it is less serious than the problems seen with rogue pharmacies.”

It was discovered that imatinib was sold without a prescription by 30% of the pharmacies, including 39% of the rogue pharmacies and 80% of the unclassified pharmacies. Information about imatinib administration was provided by 75% of the pharmacies. However, 23% did not provide any drug-related warnings, and 14% did not include recommendations to seek physician advice.

Some of the illegitimate pharmacies claimed to be registered with regulatory bodies, including 77% of the unapproved pharmacies, 30% of the rogue pharmacies, and 20% of the unclassified pharmacies. In addition, 95% of the pharmacies advertised price discounts on imatinib, 34% offered coupons or promotional codes, and 23% had bulk discounts.

The allure of low cost for an expensive lifesaving drug continues to draw buyers.

Cost Savings

The online pharmacies also dispensed generic imatinib and Gleevec at lower prices than those seen at traditional brick-and-mortar pharmacies.

Comparative prices uncovered in this study included:

  •  $787.20 (range, $136.05–$9053.91) at brick-and-mortar pharmacies
  • $296.18 (range, $165.00–$427.35) at certified online pharmacies
  • $234.66 (range, $28.50–$1342.99) at rogue pharmacies
  • $284.69 (range, $126.00–$683.00) at unapproved pharmacies
  • $115.00 (range, $65.00–137.50) at unclassified online pharmacies.

The median price for 30 tablets of Gleevec was:

  • $10,513.66 (range, $9968.87–$10,515.08) with a GoodRx coupon at brick-and-mortar pharmacies
  • $2704.00 (range, $195.00–$4597.99) at rogue pharmacies
  • $2697.50 (range, $1682.00–$4463.00) at unapproved pharmacies
  • Unavailable at certified or unclassified pharmacies.

“Given the prohibitively high cost of cancer medications, patients with cancer and providers have been attracted to online pharmacies that promise more affordable medications. However, medications that are much cheaper may be compromised,” the researchers wrote.

Illegitimate online pharmacies place patients at risk of experiencing unnecessary toxicities and lack of treatment efficacy. Please ensure that the online pharmacy that you or your loved one is utilizing follows correct regulations and accreditations.

Please see below a list of organizations that work in combatting illegitimate online pharmacies and serve as resources for consumers.

Before utilizing an online pharmacy to access medication, The Life Raft Group recommends checking with your physician or contacting The Life Raft Group. If financial constraints are causing a patient to seek alternatives, we may be able to help direct them towards legitimate resources for obtaining their medication.


  1. Blevins-Primeau, Andrea S. Illegitimate Online Pharmacies May Put Cancer Patients at risk, Cancer Therapy Advisor, July 27, 2022
  2. Sun Y, Hendrix A, Muluneh B, Ozawa S. Online pharmacy accessibility of imatinib, an oral chemotherapy medicationJ Natl Compr Cancer Netw. 2022;20:808-814. doi:10.6004/jnccn.2022.7007