Do you all remember when our CONgress passed “health care reform”, but was sure to include in the law that the government could NOT negotiate better prices for medications. Now we are seeing that move was a green light for Big Pharma to make their moves, and boy have they made those moves.
I had heard recently an example that was given by a pundit who said as an example that the dose of a certain cancer treatment drug cost the manufacturer $200 to make and it was charging the hospital $2,000 a dose and the hospital in turn was charging the patient $20,000 to deliver the medication. At first I thought this must be an exaggeration, so I have done some research. Instead of debunking the claim, I have it is even worse than stated by the pundit.
An influential group of cancer experts has warned that the high prices charged by pharmaceutical companies for cancer drugs are effectively condemning patients to death. The group of more than 100 leading cancer physicians from around the world, including nine from the UK, accuse the drug industry of “profiteering” – Def. -making a profit by unethical methods such as by raising the cost of grain after a natural disaster.
Of the 12 drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the US in 2012, 11 were priced above $100,000 (£65,000) per patient per year. In addition the price of existing drugs of proven effectiveness has been increased by up to threefold. The specialists say: “What determines a morally justifiable ‘just price’ for a cancer drug? A reasonable drug price should maintain healthy pharmaceutical industry profits without being viewed as ‘profiteering’.
In addition, the rising cost of existing drugs in a cash limited health service such as the NHS or Medicare means treatment is denied to other patients with other conditions. By the mere fact of this outrageous pricing is condemning thousands of people to death.
One of the best known – imatinib, whose brand name is Glivec – has proved so successful in chronic myeloid leukemia that patients who a decade ago survived for a few years can now look forward to a near-normal life expectancy.
But the cost of Glivec has risen from £18,000 per patient per year to around £21,000 in the UK, and from $30,000 to $92,000 in the US. This is despite the fact that all research costs were covered by the original price, and the number of patients treated and the length of time they are on the drug have both vastly increased because of the drug’s success.
Daniel Vasella, former chairman and chief executive of Novartis, the manufacturer, said the original price charged for Glivec in 2001 was considered “high but worthwhile” and was estimated to yield annual revenues of $900 million, enough to cover its development cost in two years. A decade later its annual revenues in 2012 were $4.7 billion (£3 billion).
In the US even those with health insurance may pay an average of 20 per cent of drug prices out of pocket. Drug prices are the single most frequent cause of personal bankruptcies in the US.
Three new drugs have been approved for chronic myeloid leukemia in the last year by the FDA but the prices are “astronomical” the authors say at up to $138,000 a year per patient. Worldwide only about a quarter of the patients with chronic myeloid leukemia who could benefit have access to drugs because of the cost. “A small fraction are rich enough to pay individually, and most are treated intermittently or not at all. The effects of these financial pressures on long term survival… are yet unknown.”
The authors of the article in Blood conclude: “We believe the unsustainable drug prices may be causing harm to patients. Advocating for lower drug prices is a necessity to save the lives of patients who cannot afford them. We believe drug prices should reflect objective measures of benefit, but should not exceed values that harm our patients and societies.”
In a statement to The Independent, Novartis said: “We recognize that sustainability of health care systems is a complex topic and we welcome the opportunity to be part of the dialogue. Our critical role, as one of many parties working towards improving cancer care, is to discover and develop innovative treatments.”
“ Novartis innovation in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) has changed the course of the disease. Before Glivec(imatinib)* and Tasigna (nilotinib), the five-year survival in CML was only 30 percent. Today, nine out of ten patients with CML have a normal lifespan and are leading productive lives.”
“Over the years, our programs have evolved to improve patient access to our medicines. We work together with government health care systems, charities and other payers to build successful cost-sharing models.” What a bunch of you know what. We need to take this industry to task.
Here are the most effective brands used for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia:
Imatinib (Glivec) $32,586/£21,000 per patient per year – Novartis – Designed from first principles, it proved hugely effective and unexpectedly turned into a blockbuster, earning billions of pounds for its makers.
Nilotinib (Tasigna) $32,586/£21,000 – Novartis – Designed for patients who fail to respond to Glivec, Novartis reduced the cost to get it past Nice, whilst increasing the cost of Glivec.
Dasatinib (Sprycel) $48,000/£31,000 – Bristol Myers Squibb – Also designed for patients who cannot take Glivec. But it has not been approved by Nice for use on the NHS because of its high cost.
Bosutinib (Bosulif) $74,500/£76,000 – Pfizer – For patients who suffer side-effects from the other drugs. It won approval in the US in 2012 but is awaiting a license in the UK.
Omacetaxine (Synribo) $ 155,000/£100,000 – Teva – For patients who cannot tolerate other drugs. Approved in US in 2012 but awaiting licence in the UK.
Ponatinib (Iclusig) $140,00/£90,000 – Ariad – A third-generation drug which works in a different way. Approved in the US in 2012 but awaiting a licence in the UK.
When I see this, it begs the question of when do we wake up and say hell no. This is our families lives we are talking about here. How much more personal must it get before we stop this madness. It starts with our elected officials and it should start RIGHT NOW. When do we wake up? When Dear God When?