The Turing Pharma case has received widespread coverage, but as Techdirt readers know, it’s hardly a unique example of the pharmaceutical industry taking advantage of a flawed system. In fact, over in Canada, there’s another interesting example of the industry’s sense of entitlement, reported here by CBC News:
A U.S. drug company is taking the Canadian government to court for its attempt to lower the price of what has been called the world’s most expensive drug.
Alexion Pharmaceuticals has filed a motion in Federal Court, arguing that Canada’s drug price watchdog has no authority to force the company to lower its price for Soliris.
According to the article, a 12-month course of Soliris costs about $520,000 in Canada at today’s exchange rates, and a mere $500,000 in the US.
While Soliris is not a cure, it can stop the assault [by two rare blood diseases] on the body’s tissues and organs. Since patients typically need to take the medication indefinitely, it can cost tens of millions of dollars over a lifetime.
Understandably, some Canadian regions are struggling to provide the drug for all the people who need it:
Due to the high cost, some patients in Canada can’t get the drug. Only some provinces will cover the cost of treatment and there are different criteria to qualify for coverage in various jurisdictions.
The pharmaceutical industry likes to argue that, though high, such prices are necessary in order for companies to recoup the research and development costs of new drugs. According to the CBC article, Soliris has already brought Alexion around $4.5 billion in revenues, which ought to be enough to cover any such outlay, not least because of the following important fact:
In case of Soliris, most of the research and development was done by university researchers working in academic laboratories supported by public funds.
“I think the public science is well over 80 or 90 per cent of the work,” said Sachdev Sidhu, a University of Toronto scientist who is also in the business of drug development.
That means that Alexion had to spend less than usual to develop and bring the drug to market. It also means that, once more, a pharma company gets to build on the work funded by the public, but without any sense of obligation to pay that back in the form of lower prices — on the contrary. Perhaps most damagingly, the lawsuit brought by Alexion to defend its exorbitant pricing could have very serious negative consequences for everyone in Canada:
A University of Ottawa professor who specializes in health law said he was shocked that Alexion would challenge Canada’s authority to regulate drug prices. If Alexion’s case is successful, it could end Ottawa’s ability to control the cost of patented drugs, Amir Attaran told CBC News.
“This is the single greatest threat to pricing of drugs in Canada ever,” he said Thursday.
In the pursuit of high profit margins, the world’s dysfunctional drug industry continues to ride roughshod over everything in its path, whether a patient trying to survive a rare chronic disease, or an entire nation trying to provide decent medical treatment to as many of its population as possible.