Saturday, April 15, 2017

Big Pharma Blackmail

It never fails to surprise this blog that one of the most important industries to the health and well-being of people is shamelessly run for profit and not for the good of the people. We are talking about the pharmaceutical business. If drug companies have no competition, they are free to raise prices.

Staff at Aspen Pharmacare plotted to destroy stocks of life-saving medicines during a price dispute with the Spanish health service in 2014. Leaked internal emails show employees  calling for “celebration” over price hikes of cancer drugs. When bargaining over drug prices in Spain, the pharmaceutical giant is said to have threatened to stop selling the cancer treatments unless the Health minister agreed to price rises of up to 4,000 per cent.

After purchasing five different cancer drugs from British firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the company tried to sell the medicines in Europe for up to 40 times their previous price. In 2013, the price of one pack of a chemotherapy drug called busulfan, used to treat leukaemia, rose from £5.20 to £65.22 in England and Wales. The other four drugs, including leukeran, also used by leukaemia patients, and melphalan, for skin and ovarian cancers, also became up to four times more expensive.

A ruling by the Italian competition watchdog found Aspen had taken an “aggressive” approach to negotiations in that country. The company said it would stop supplying Italy with the drugs in October 2013 if authorities did not agree to price rises of up to 2,100 per cent in three months.

The company, which is based in South Africa and has its European headquarters in Dublin, bought the five drugs from GSK in 2009 as part of a deal worth £273m. The price increases were made possible by a loophole that allows drug companies to change the price of medicines if they are no longer branded with the same name.

 It is “worrying” that several drug companies have increased the price of cancer treatment, a senior pharmacology research fellow at the University of Liverpool, told the BBC.

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