Wilson’s Disease; Price Gouging and Remedies

Last month, the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging released its report on “Sudden Price Spikes in Off-Patent Prescription Drugs”, detailing how four pharma companies in particular (there are many more) have gouged patients by buying long existing drugs and raising the prices by astronomical amounts- sometimes as much as 5,000% of the price the day before the drug was acquired. The typical justification for charging high prices is that it takes hundreds of millions of dollars and many years of investment to bring a new drug to market. Thus, once a drug is approved, prices must be high enough to allow the company to recoup these costs and replenish their capital in order to to allow them to continue to invest in new, costly drugs.

But the companies the Senate investigated did no such thing. Rather, they simply looked for drugs that had no generic competition and had a defined, long-standing patient population. They then simply raised the prices through the roof- often on the day they acquired the drug or shortly thereafter. Other than the label on the drug, nothing changed- except now patients and insurers were paying 30, 40 or 50 times more than they’d paid just the day before.

Take Cuprimine and Syrpine- two drugs used to treat Wilson’s disease- a rare condition where the body cannot process copper and, left untreated, is always fatal. Cuprimine has been around since 1956 and got FDA approved in 1965. Syprine, the gold standard for treating Wilson’s disease, has been around since 1969, gaining FDA approval in 1985. Because the patient population is small, there has been no generic competition. When Valeant Pharmaceuticals bought these drugs from a private drug company, it raised the prices by 5,785%, from a still high but modest $445 to $26,189 (Cuprimine), and 3,162%- from $652 to $21,267. No research, development or any other significant change was made.

These increases have devastating effects both on the patients, who have seen their co-pays increase dramatically, and on health plans, which have to shoulder the increased costs not covered by the co-pay.

While the Senate has proposed several prospective solutions, none are designed to recover the unconscionable increases of the past. We believe that there is a way to recover these outrageous charges. If you feel you have been harmed by any of these practices, please call us 415-504-1601 or email us for a consultation.

The Lawrence Law Firm

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