In another example of drug company greed, a U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturer is taking the Canadian government to court for its attempt to lower the price of Soliris which has been labeled the world’s most expensive drug.
Now, in a motion filed in the Federal Court, Alexion Pharmaceuticals is arguing that Canada’s drug price watchdog has no power or authority to force it to lower the price it charges for the drug used to treat rare blood diseases that affect one in every one million people. In Canada, a 12-month treatment costs $700,000 while in the U.S. it costs about $669,000. As patients usually need to take the medication indefinitely, it costs tens of millions of dollars over a lifetime.
The court documents show Alexion has not changed the price of Soliris since it went on the market six years ago. It argues the price difference between what is charged in the U.S and Canada is a result of the currency exchange rates.
The two diseases which the drug is used for – haemolytic uremic syndrome (AHUS) and paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) – force the human immune system to kill red blood cells, causing blood clots, anemia, organ failure and eventually death.
Although Soliris is not a cure, it can prevent the disease from attacking organs and tissues.
Due to its high price and because only some provinces cover the cost of treatment, many patients in Canada don’t have access to the drug.
Even though Soliris is the only drug produced by Alexion, experts say it has earned the company $6 billion over eight years.
Canada’s Patented Medicine Prices Review Board is saying the price is excessive and that it costs more in Canada than other places in the world. Legal experts say the Board began hearings in June to force Alexion to review its prices, and determine if the charged price was excessive. If the latter is found to be the case, the experts say Alexion could be forced to pay back Ottawa for past overpayments, setting a legal precedent for other provinces to recoup funds.
Alexion’s Federal Court filing asks the court to order the review board to stop both its hearings and prevent it from making any orders that could affect the price of Soliris.
Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa professor specializing in health law says he is “shocked” by Alexion’s challenge to Canadian authorities regulation of drug prices. He says if the challenge is successful it could end the Canadian Government’s ability to control the cost of patented drugs.
“This is the single greatest threat to pricing of drugs in Canada ever,” he said.
Alexion has not responded to media calls for comment.
This isn’t the only pharmaceutical company that made headlines recently. Last week a former hedge fund manager Marin Shkreli, turned pharmaceutical entrepreneur received worldwide condemnation for raising the price of Daraprim which is used to treat life-threatening parasitic infections in HIV/AIDS patients 5,500 percent. This increase saw the price of the drug go from $13.50 to $750 per tablet.