22
Jul

How High? The Backlash Over Rising Prescription Drug Prices Gains Steam

If you had any doubt that prescription drug prices are the proverbial hot potato for the pharmaceutical industry, buy cialis consider some recent developments.

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation plans to give a $5.2 million grant to the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, patient a non-profit that examines the value of new medicines, so it can double its staff and produce more reports suggesting benchmark prices for up to 20 drugs over two years, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, a group of prominent doctors have gone public with complaints that Vertex Pharmaceuticals VRTX -1.87% is overcharging for a pair of ground-breaking medicines that combat cystic fibrosis. They told The Boston Globe that, for the past three years, they held a private and largely fruitless dialogue with the drug maker and are now airing their accusations out of frustration.

And a new poll shows that, overall, 87% of the public supports allowing the federal government to negotiate prices for the Medicare Part D program. This includes a majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents, as well as across generations, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which queried more than 1,800 people last spring.

Taken together, these underscore how the cost of medicines has come to captivate Americans and spark a growing clamor for change. Over the past few years, a growing number of new drugs – notably, for hard-to-treat illnesses – have debuted at high price points. As the Journal notes, some cancer drugs cost about $150,000 per patient for a one-year supply.

At the same time, prices for some generic medicines have risen sharply recently, a surprising turn of events for a health care system that has relied on copycat medicines as a lower-cost alternative. In response, lawmakers have held hearings and a growing number of payers – both public and private – have begun pressuring drug makers for discounts and to prove their medicines have value.

The Arnold Foundation, for instance, is backing ICER out of concern that the U.S. spends more on health care than other nations, but does not produce the best outcomes. ICER, earlier this year, issued a widely read report that critiqued the value of a Gilead Sciences hepatitis C medicine and, this fall, plans to release such a report that examines new cholesterol-lowering drugs known as PCSK9 inhibitors.

“We’re concerned about the human and economic impact that our underperforming system has on our country,” Kelli Rhee, a vice president of venture development at the foundation, tells the Journal. “Drug pricing has become “essentially divorced” from the relative benefits of new drugs compared with existing treatment options.

Paul Quinton, a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of California, San Diego, expressed similar sentiments about Vertex drugs for treating cystic fibrosis. The pricing is “egregious,” he tells the Globe. “This is more than five times the annual salary of the average American family. How can they in good conscience charge that much?”

Currently, there are 30,000 people in the U.S. who have cystic fibrosis, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. About half of those people have the gene mutation that would be addressed by the newest drug from Vertex called Orkambi, which combines an older Vertex treatment, known as Kalydeco, and another compound.

For now, the population that Vertex plans to target with the new medicine amounts to about 8,500 people. The drug maker charges $259,000 for Orkambi, which is less than the $311,000 charged for Kalydeco, a drug that serves a smaller patient population. By charging less for Orkambi but for a wider pool of patients, Vertex says it is still earning a needed return, a move that pleased Wall Street analysts.

A Vertex spokesman tells the Globe that the drug maker, which has lost money in all but one of its 26 years, has invested billions of dollars in its cystic fibrosis research. He adds that Vertex needs to generate money so it can expand the market for Orkambi, which can help patients with a specific mutation, and also develop treatments for patients with other mutations.

“Right now, two-thirds of the patients in the United States don’t have medicines’’ to treat the cause of the cystic fibrosis, the Vertex spokesman tells the Globe. “We want to help those people. That work is going to take a very long time, [take] hundreds of people, and a very significant continued investment.’’

And in one meeting between Vertex executives and the physicians, the drug maker warned that lower prices could make the company vulnerable to a takeover by a pharmaceutical giant with less interest in pursuing cystic fibrosis drug development, the Globe writes.

But Quinton and the other physicians complain that Vertex is profiting, in part, from support provided by others. The National Institutes of Health and other funders, including the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, helped underwrite basic research and subsequent development at Vertex and a company it acquired, Aurora Biosciences, the Globe notes.

“As we move into genomics medicine, diseases are being divided into smaller pieces based on genetic mutations, and the price to treat each of the pieces is exceedingly high,” Brian P. O’Sullivan, a pulmonary specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Children’s Hospital in New Hampshire, tells the Globe. “I don’t think that health care can be treated like a commodity the way a car is.”

 

By Ed Silverman

Original article:  http://blogs.wsj.com/pharmalot/2015/07/21/how-high-the-backlash-over-rising-prescription-drug-prices-gains-steam/

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