Friday, January 06, 2017

Legal system and pharma to heart patients: “Drop dead”

When the wolves of pharma aren’t disemboweling their 
own customers, guess what they try to do to each other?
So by now you probably know about the likes of Martin Shkreli. He’s the price-gouging drug entrepreneur whose Turing Pharmaceutical company bought a drug called Daraprim, used to prevent fatalities in certain HIV patients. Then Shkreli raised the price from $20 a pill to $750 a pill. And smirked.

As if to prove that a woman can be as greedy, mean, and cold-blooded as Shkreli, there’s Heather Bresch, the $18 million a year CEO of Mylan Pharmaceutical. She got the price of EpiPen, a commonly used lifeline for diabetes patients, up from $100 to $608.

“The greed is astounding, it’s sickening,” said Congressman John Duncan. And he’s a Republican, not some bleeding heart liberal like me.

But now comes news from Bloomberg Markets indicating that when greedy pharmaceutical companies aren’t going for their customers’ throats, they’ll go for each other’s.

Thus we get the war between Amgen on one side, and Sanifi and Regeneron on the other. It’s all a bit complicated, but as usual it boils down to "your money or your life," with sick people getting the short end of the stick. It works pretty much like this:

Amgen sells a drug that lowers cholesterol called Repatha. Sannifi and Regeneron have a drug called Praluent that does similar things but with lower dosages. Both drugs treat patients who have high cholesterol, but who can’t tolerate older and cheaper drugs called statins. In some cases, access to a non-statin drug that lowers cholesterol could mean the difference between life and death.

But never mind all that. There’s money at stake. Amgen sued Sanofi and Regeneron for patent infringement. Sanofi and Regeneron claim that parts of the Amgen patent are essentially bogus because they're overly broad, so the patent should never have been granted. 

Amgen demanded that Praluent be removed from the market. Sanofi and Regeneron protested that the patent wrongly gives Amgen control not just of its own drug, but of an entire category of medication. Let me use a layman's analogy here and posit that this is similar to the maker of one patented antibiotic claiming it should have the right to all antibiotics. 

Praluent helps patients who are able to take lower doses of their drug than are available from Amgen’s Repatha, and that taking it off the market would cause significant public harm, say Sanofi and Regeneron.

Bloomberg Market Reports:
Robinson [the judge] also noted…that she felt like she was “between a rock and a hard place” — between protecting the rights of a winning patent holder and the benefit to the public of having another drug on the market that can potentially stave off heart attacks.”

But listen, hundreds of thousands of people die of heart attacks every year. Big deal. On the other hand, a buck’s a buck. And in the case of cholesterol lowering drugs, it’s likely billions of bucks. So — are you surprised? — the decision, at least pending appeal, goes to Amgen. What about heart patients  who could benefit from Praluent, perhaps more than Repatha? 

They can drop dead.

No comments: