Sufferers of Rare Disease Get Lesson in US Drug Economics

Generic versions of old drugs don't always mean deep discounts
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 24, 2018 11:31 AM CST
Sufferers of Rare Disease Get Lesson in US Drug Economics
The Israeli flag flies outside the Teva Pharmaceutical building in December in Neot Hovav, Israel.   (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Sufferers of Wilson disease, a rare condition that causes copper to build up in the body, were excited by the announcement of a generic version of the 50-year-old drug they use to treat the condition. Then they heard the price tag: $18,375 for a 100-pill bottle. "I had personally hoped for more of a discount," says Mary Graper at the Wilson Disease Association. The New York Times uses the case of Wilson disease drug Syprine to illustrate the problem of skyrocketing drug prices in the US—and how introducing generic versions of drugs isn't always enough to solve the problem. Valeant Pharmaceuticals International made its name buying old drugs and jacking up their prices. Syprine, which was developed in the 1960s, cost $652 in 2010. By 2015 Valeant was charging $21,267.

Teva Pharmaceuticals announced a generic version of Syprine earlier this month, saying the new drug "illustrates Teva's commitment to serving patient populations in need." It sounded like good news for people with Wilson disease—until they learned Teva would be charging 28 times what Syprine cost in 2010. Jay Copeland, who has been taking Syprine for a decade, calls the price "incredibly punitive." Experts say generic versions of drugs only serve to lower prices when there are multiple generic versions on the market. A spokesperson for Teva says the company expects the price to fall "if there is more competition." There is actually a second generic version of Syprine on the market—from Valeant itself. Its cost: $19,119. Read the full story here. (More pharmaceutical industry stories.)

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