Jeri Burtchell, a Healthline author wrote a detailed 2 part series examining the business of Big Pharma and the role of patents and competition in the MS drug pricing process. I am happy to report a summary of her findings.
MS is a chronic, progressive, and often debilitating autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. More than 400,000 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with MS, while worldwide that number is in excess of 2.1 million.
Having personally experienced the need for MS disease modifying medications (DMD), Jeri set out to discover just why the cost is so high.
The FDA approved the first DMD in 1993. Since then there have been there have been nine other disease modifying medications approved. Some of these medications have been proven to slow the progression, but with no cure in sight, those afflicted with MS are looking at a lifetime of medication.
In the HealthLine article, Jeri shares the cost of each of the disease modifying medications that are so necessary for those living with multiple sclerosis. She found the costs ranging from $4,757.19 to $5,629.49 per month.
Jeri found that patient demand, research and development costs, and competition all affect the pricing of these life-altering medications.
Just How Are Drug Prices Set?
Jeri was privileged to interview Dr. Kenneth Kaitin, a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Mass. and when asked about the pricing, Dr. Kaitin replied,“That is the blackest of all black boxes, people in the industry will never talk about drug pricing. [Unless they are directly involved, they are] kept in the dark about all of it just because the less they know about it, the better.”
None of the drug makers she contacted responded to requests for comment.
Dr. Kaitin continued, “There is [no publication] I have ever seen that describes the pricing process because there is no incentive for industry to provide any clarification on that process. Industry says that it’s the enormous cost of drug development…and bringing to market new medicines that drive these very high costs,” Kaitin said. “The real factor is value. If you develop a very expensive drug that few people are interested in, then you’re not going to price it high because then even fewer people will be interested in it. In that regard, pharmaceuticals are just like any other commodity, any other product.”
Medications as Commodities
The pharmaceutical industry is no different than other industries in our country. If you develop a high value product that doesn’t cost too much to manufacture, it’s going to be priced very high. People are willing to pay the high price for the MS medications.
Jeri states, “The issue, of course, is that DMDs for MS are not “lifestyle” drugs, and patients do not so much choose to take them as have to.”
“Think of it this way,” Kaitin explained, “if everybody could be convinced to lose weight then the cost of anti-hypertensives [for high blood pressure, which has been linked to obesity] would have to go down because…people’s blood pressure would go down as well. But people tend to not lose weight so…there’s still demand for high blood pressure drugs.”
What Does This Mean for MS Patients?
Now with 10 therapies to choose from and more currently in clinical trials, MS patients have options that didn’t exist 20 years ago. But with many newer medications having just earned their patent rights, we won’t see cheaper generics available for as long as two decades.
Just as I said, ‘it’s business as usual’ despite the great need for these drugs and the impact drug costs have on patients’ lives. Drug companies have patient assistance programs in place to help cover the cost of medication if a patient has insufficient insurance or no coverage and cannot otherwise afford it.
In part two of this series, Jeri will examine the emerging roles of social media, patient activism, and physicians groups in effecting change in a market that, according to Kaitin, “pays even more attention than they have in the past.” You can read the 2nd of this two part series right here.
I found both of Jeri’s articles very informative. Have you wondered about the cost of MS medications? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.