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General News    H3'ed 12/20/18

Pharma Profit Party Continues into 2019

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When did you become aware of the obscene prices Big Pharma is charging for drugs? For many it was when a smirking Martin Shkreli, founder of Turing Pharmaceuticals, testified on the Hill in about his price hike of the antiparasitic drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750, calling lawmakers "imbeciles" in a tweeted goodbye. He is now enjoying some time at Club Fed.

6 digit drug prices are now common
6 digit drug prices are now common
(Image by Martha Rosenberg)
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For others it was the roll-out of Gilead Sciences hepatitis C drug Solvadi in 2014 at $84,000 for a 12- week course of treatment. The Senate Finance Committee, in an understatement, said the price did not reflect research and development but a "revenue" push. Forbes writer Avik Roy noted the same hepatitis C treatment costs $900 a year in Egypt and that US taxpayers are picking up the tab since most US hepatitis C patients are uninsured, underinsured or imprisoned.

Here are other extortion-priced Pharma drugs.

" Kalydeco, a drug that treats a rare form of cystic fibrosis in patients ages 6 years and older priced at a $300,000 a year.

" Acthar, a drug that treats seizures in infants under 2-years-old priced at a $300,000 a year.

" Kadcyla, a breast cancer drug that costs $94,000 for a year.

" Zydelig, a leukemia drug, made by Gilead the (Hep C drug maker) that costs $57,755 a year.

" Hetlioz, a drug that treats non-24 sleep disorder--a problem affecting blind people whose circadian rhythm is off--that costs $60,000 a year.

" Xyrem, a drug that treats narcolepsy for $35,000 per year

" Abilify, a psychiatric drug usually added on to another expensive psychiatric drug, that costs $17, 316 year in its brand name version.

" Praluent, a biologic to lower cholesterol expected to cost over $14,600 a year.

There are efforts to stop the Pharma profiteering and opportunism like pending state bills to force drug makers to reveal their true costs and allow insurers to refuse payment. The White House is also launching a new Medicare payment system to stop the incentives for a doctor to use a $2,000 drug when a $50 drug would do. Currently, if doctors buy drugs themselves and administer them in the office, Medicare pays them back with a six percent bonus to cover administrative costs. Under the new program, "Doctors who prescribe a lot of newer, more expensive drugs will earn less than they used to," notes the New York Times.

The move was immediately termed "another troubling example of unelected bureaucrats making decisions behind closed doors," by Pharma-friendly lawmakers. How dare the government protect our tax dollars?

Since then, conflicts of interest have only worsened. Robert Califf, the former FDA commissioner, was confirmed despite 23 financial links to drug makers including serving on the Portola Pharmaceuticals board of directors and serving "as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee."

His successor, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, "spent the bulk of his career working in the drug and health care industry," says the New York Times. "From 2013 to 2015, for example, Dr. Gottlieb received more than $150,000 to advise Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a company whose two approved drugs are seen as breakthrough treatments for cystic fibrosis but carry list prices of more than $250,000 a year. He has served for years as a consultant to pharmaceutical giants like GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb."

With such Pharma operatives in office, the profit party----balanced on tax payers' backs----will only continue.

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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