In case you needed one more reason to despise the United States pharmaceutical industry, here it is.
Connecticut-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals has earned over $6 billion in revenue over the past eight years by selling Soliris, a drug widely known as the most expensive in the world. Soliris treats two rare blood diseases that affect about one in every one million people and comes at an annual cost of $700,000. (Yes, SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS PER YEAR.) Patients suffering from paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) and atypical haemolytic uremic syndrome (AHUS) need to take the medication indefinitely, which can rack up a bill into the tens of millions of dollars.
Which is just how Alexion Pharmaceuticals likes it. The Canadian government, meanwhile, does not.
Recognizing that almost three-quarters of a million dollars is an insane price to pay for medication, Canada’s Patented Medicine Prices Review Board recently launched hearings to force Alexion to lower its price, saying it could be considered excessive and that it costs more in Canada than anywhere elsewhere in the world. The astronomical cost of the drug isn’t covered by some provinces and there are different criteria to qualify for coverage in various jurisdictions.
Alexion went straight to the Federal Court in response, demanding the review board be prohibited from going ahead with its hearing or from making any order that would affect the price of Soliris.
While it is the kind of move you’d expect from a profit-driven corporation, it’s also one that could have a monumental impact if upheld.
“This is the single greatest threat to pricing of drugs in Canada ever,” said a University of Ottawa professor who specializes in health law. If a decision in favour of Alexion’s motion in court is made, it essentially means Canada’s authority to regulate drug prices would be powerless against deciding the cost of patented drugs in the country.
It seems almost incomprehensible that the drug industry be granted more power to operate its racket, and yet here we are.