Drug prices Double, Triple: Fair Play or Foul Practice?

In 2013 alone, over 71,000 Ontarians were diagnosed with some form of cancer. And across Canada, approximately 200 of us die from the disease every day.

Big Pharma has responded to this crisis by pursuing a range of ingenious clinical research initiatives – and targeted therapies that have helped keep those statistics from rising to even more terrifying heights.

Unfortunately, along with recent R&D advances, we’ve also seen a dramatic and unprecedented hike in drug pricing. Generics are more widely available, yes – but patients with aggressive, harder to treat cancers still rely heavily on expensive name brands. Fifteen new specialty cancer drugs were produced last year. And each one costs more than US$10,000 a month.

What if you or someone you love simply cannot afford the price of treatment? The problem of accessibility is more common than you might think…and it’s getting worse.

 

A life or death issue for 12 year old girl

Cancer patients are not the only ones affected by skyrocketing drug prices. A recent CBC special report followed the story of Madi Vanstone, a 12 year old Ontarian who relies on a high-priced drug called Kalydeco to control her cystic fibrosis. The drug costs around $28,000 a month. That’s about $349,000 annually.

Provincial health plans do not cover Kalydeco. The family has relied on a private insurance plan and donations from friends to treat Madi. But their private insurance provider is re-assessing its commitment and the donations are running low. With nowhere left to turn, the Vanstones are petitioning local government to extend coverage for the drug that keeps Madi alive. But it’s a slow fight and time is running out.

Pharma justifies price hikes

Drugmakers insist that current pricing standards are entirely justifiable, and have come about as a result of volatile market conditions. According to Big Pharma, research is increasingly expensive – and so is the cost of satisfying rigorous pharmaceutical quality control protocols associated with testing new therapies. What’s more, with so many recent patent expiries drug companies must compensate for revenue lost from competing generics. They must charge more for the new, speciality products.

Conflict is on the horizon

But where does this leave the growing number of patients who are forced to choose between their health and the bare necessities of daily living? Big Pharma is reluctant to accept government interference in its pricing strategies. And one could argue that drug development is a business after all, responsive to the dynamics of supply and demand.

One thing is certain: students currently enrolled in pharmaceutical courses, soon to emerge as the new industry leaders, will undoubtedly have to contend with the complexities of price inflation, sustainability, and patient responsibility.

Do pharmaceutical companies have an ethical obligation to ensure drugs are priced affordably?