It’s unfortunate, but increasingly true: pharmaceutical companies with patents or a cornered market on prescription drugs are demanding outrageous prices for their products … well beyond reasonable profit levels and also beyond not only individual consumers’ ability to pay, but that of governments as well.
It’s time … in return for those MONOPOLIES given them under legislation … for them to defend the prices they then charge, to prove they are not GOUGING for extortion-level profits.
Take the case of Lilia Zaharieva, the 30-year-old University of Victoria student who suffers from the debilitating, and even life-threatening effects of cystic fibrosis.
Lilia had been taking, among other medications, a new drug Orkambi developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which she swears has substantially helped her fight off her disease. And without it, she believes she will face total lung failure within two years.
But the drug costs $250,000 a year … and Lilia has now run out of coverage under her private insurance plan, and the drug is NOT covered under BC Pharmacare and Health Minister Adrian Dix has refused to budge.
“Orkambi was reviewed by Canada’s Common Drug Review board and the Drug Benefit Council, Dix said, both of which recommended that the drug not be funded by PharmaCare programs across the country. This is because the two expert bodies were not given sufficient evidence to support Orkambi’s therapeutic benefits. “So it’s a difficult situation, but we get advice from experts in the field and their expert advice was followed by [former health minister] Terry Lake who, in March, decided against listing this drug in B.C.”, reported the Victoria Times-Colonist.
Who could not sympathize, empathize and want to help Lilia ???
But how much can any public health/Pharmacare plan shell out for a single drug to help a single patient?
Compassion might say there should be no limit … but let’s keep it real: there are more than 4,000 Canadians suffering from the disease … and hundreds of millions of dollars are already spent on other medications treating CF … not including more than $150 million already devoted on research etc.
How much can society pay? Is there ANY limit?
I have no idea how much it cost Vertex to research, develop, test and put and maintain Orkambi on the market … but if it is protected by patent and they charge $250,000 a year per patient, they should have to justify that price … and profit level.
If we DO cover the $250,000 annual cost of this drug/treatment for Lilia, what about other CF patients … and what about those suffering from other life-threatening diseases/maladies who also want or believe in other hugely expensive drugs that have NOT yet convinced regulating medical experts of their efficacy … or even those with proven success?
We all recall the infamous Martin Shkreli, whose firm acquired the rights and then raised the price of a long-existing but rare medication to treat life-threatening parasites from $13.50 to $750 a pill overnight. The huge public outcry reduced the price somewhat … but this was not the only case like that.
“Cycloserine, a drug used to treat dangerous multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, was just increased in price to $10,800 for 30 pills from $500 after its acquisition by Rodelis Therapeutics. Scott Spencer, general manager of Rodelis, said the company needed to invest to make sure the supply of the drug remained reliable. He said the company provided the drug free to certain needy patients,” the New York Times reported at the time.
“In August, two members of Congress investigating generic drug price increases wrote to Valeant Pharmaceuticals after that company acquired two heart drugs, Isuprel and Nitropress, from Marathon Pharmaceuticals and promptly raised their prices by 525 percent and 212 percent respectively. Marathon had acquired the drugs from another company in 2013 and had quintupled their prices ….”
(The last I saw, Vertex denied Lilia’s compassionate care appeal to cover the drug cost in her case.)
It all raises horrible, difficult questions and issues.
And I believe one way the federal government CAN act, and would enjoy public support, is by forcing pharmaceutical companies granted MONOPOLY patent protection for 15 years (used to be 10 years, but if I recall correctly, under Prime minister Mulroney’s Conservative government the patent period was extended to 15 years) to EXPLAIN/DEFEND their PROFIT margins on monopoly-protected drugs.
Of course, the cost of new drugs goes well beyond just production: some take years to research and can cost billions to develop/test etc.
Understandable. BUT in return for such generous monopolies/write-offs/profits, pharmaceutical companies should be willing/able to explain/defend their costs, prices … AND PROFIT MARGINS … to a non-political panel of medical, scientific experts and economists.
It’s clear that some are incapable ..or unwilling … to fairly police themselves.
And any company that charges $250,000 a year for a product for which WE gave them ANY patent/monopoly protection should be happy …okay, let’s settle for willing … to defend their pricing and profit margin in public..
(This is one we CAN take action on! If you would like to take up this cause and issue, you can write to the various ministers involved:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: email@example.com
Federal Health Minister Ginette Taylor: firstname.lastname@example.org
Premier John Horgan: email@example.com
BC Health Minister Adrian Dix: HLTH.firstname.lastname@example.org
Feel free to copy/paste the URL for this blog piece …. http://harveyoberfeld.ca/blog/time-to-controlregulate-rx-drug-profits/ as a reference/recommendation they should follow up.
And pass it on …ask others you know to take up the call)