Big Pharma to start charging $1 million per patient for gene therapy drugs

Sunday, January 13, 2013 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: Big Pharma, gene therapy, drugs

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(NaturalNews) Greedily clawing for new ways to generate as much profit as logistically possible, the pharmaceutical industry has taken a renewed interest in developing novel drugs for so-called "orphan" diseases, or extremely rare health conditions that affect only a miniscule percentage of the overall population. Though the market for such drugs is small, it is currently the fastest growing segment of the drug industry because drug manufacturers are getting away with charging upwards of $1 million or more per patient who receives such treatments, and nobody is doing anything to stop them.

If you thought the costs associated with mass-produced patented drugs was high, consider the fact that patients with the rare blood disease paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH), for instance, are typically billed a whopping $440,000 per year to be treated with the Alexion Pharmaceuticals drug Soliris (eculizumab). And patients with a rare form of the lung disease cystic fibrosis are currently being charged upwards of $300,000 for treatment with the Vertex Pharmaceuticals drug Kalydeco (ivacaftor).

Where prices really get crazy, though, is with a new drug called Glybera (alipogene tiparvovec), which was recently approved in Europe for the treatment of lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD). According to Reuters, the drug, which is manufactured by the Dutch company UniQure, will cost more than $1 million per patient when it hits the market this summer, and will be among the most expensive drugs currently available to patients. And the only reason it will cost so much is that UniQure can charge as much as it wants for the drug without penalty, as there are no government-approved alternatives.

Big Pharma capitalizing on rare conditions for obscene profits

It is all part of a crafty new scheme by Big Pharma to take advantage of individuals with rare health conditions, whose insurance companies can be billed obscene amounts of money for specialized treatments unavailable anywhere else. Since drug companies are having an increasingly hard time coming up with new drugs for the mass disease market, they are turning to more uncommon conditions with the hope they can both rush new drugs to market, and generate huge profits on their limited sale.

"More companies are getting into this sector because they've seen the eye-wateringly high prices that can be charged for some of these very rare disease medicines," explained Karl Claxton, professor of health economics at the University of York in the U.K., about Big Pharma's scandalous greed. "It's unsustainable. Healthcare systems around the world are under increasing financial pressure and all of them are starting to look very carefully at what they get for their money."

But at this point in time, many health insurance providers continue to cover these novel treatments, as there are often no other government-approved options. You can think of it as a type of state-sanctioned monopoly on medicine that preys on those with the most atypical and hardest to treat conditions. And beyond this, the drug industry is actually pushing to have novel orphan drugs rushed to market without proper safety trials, further exploiting the "urgent" needs of patients with rare health conditions.

So far in 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved at least four new orphan drugs to treat rare conditions, including drugs for the blood and bone marrow disease myelogenous leukemia, Gaucher disease, Hodgkin lymphoma, anaplastic large cell lymphoma, and cystic fibrosis. It is expected that each of these drugs will cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars or more per year, further illustrating the runaway costs associated with conventional medicine.

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