You have a rare and aggressive form of cancer and you are taking one of the few life-saving cancer drugs available on the market… your health improves slowly but steadily and your oncologist is feeling positive about your progress…
For the first time in a long time you have hope.
Then, the worst thing possible happens: The drug is no longer available because all of a sudden it is too expensive.
Profit hungry swindlers
The scenario I just described is not too far-fetched… and many cancer patients in Europe have been facing this terrible dilemma.
The drug in question is busulfan, used to treat leukaemia. In 2013, the price of this drug rose from £5.20 to £65.22 a pack in England and Wales.
That’s an increase of almost 1,100 per cent!
Another drug, chlorambucil, also used to treat blood cancer, rose from £8.36 to £40.51 a pack in the same year.
The reason for these skyrocketing prices? Money. Of course.
It all started in 2009 when the British company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) sold its portfolio of cancer drugs to a South African pharmaceutical company called Aspen in a £273 million deal. The patent for the drugs in the Cosmo portfolio had expired. However, since there wasn’t any competition from other manufacturers making similar drugs, Aspen saw the perfect money-spinning opportunity.
Branded drugs are subject to strict price controls, but the UK Department of Health does not limit the price of unbranded generics. Exploiting this loophole allowed Aspen to impose extortionate price rises for these cancer drugs.
Recently, the UK newspaper, The Times uncovered a hoard of documents, including internal emails and presentations, revealing how from early 2012, Aspen began to target price increases of these drugs across Europe.
However, unlike the UK, other European countries refused to accept these price hikes.
And here’s where things get really sinister… As a result of its refusal, Aspen threatened to stop supplying the medicines to Italy if the authorities did not agree to price rises of up to 2,100 per cent within three months… It is also alleged that Aspen orchestrated drug shortages to increase pressure on the Italian health authorities — basically forcing them into submission.
It literally became a case of do or die… with one Italian pharmacist having to choose which of two families, both with a child suffering from cancer, was to receive the drug because of deliberately being short-supplied.
In May 2014, direct supplies to the Spanish health authorities were frozen and patients were forced to buy the drugs at much higher prices from foreign suppliers. Internal emails revealed that a senior executive ordered these drugs not to be sold to Spanish pharmacists as a result of the pricing dispute. He added that if the Spanish health ministry did not agree to higher prices, “the only options will be to donate or destroy this stock”.
I’ve read and written many, many bad things about Big Pharma over the years, but this takes the cake — using cancer patients as bargaining chips in a price war!
Talk about having absolutely no morals.
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Drug giant’s secret plan to destroy cancer medicine, published online, 14.04.17, thetimes.co.uk