18 August 2017Americas

House Representatives begin investigation into MS drug pricing

Two US House Representatives have begun an investigation into the pricing of drugs used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS).

Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Peter Welch, a senior Democrat on both the Oversight Committee and the Committee on Energy and Commerce, sent letters to seven pharmaceutical companies requesting information about their pricing strategies.

Yesterday, August 17, the representatives named Bayer Healthcare, Biogen, EMD Serono, Novartis, Sanofi Genzyme, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Roche Pharmaceuticals as the companies contacted.

The letters detailed “shadow pricing”—when a company increases its price or introduces a new, more expensive drug into the market and other companies increase their prices to match.

Information about corporate profits and expenses and documents concerning pricing strategies, patient assistance programmes and drug distribution systems was requested.

Cummings and Welch cited a study undertaken by the American Academy of Neurology which found that some drug companies “appear to be increasing their prices and setting new, higher prices in lockstep with competitors”.

According to the study, annual sales of MS drugs doubled from $4 billion to nearly $9 billion from 2008 to 2012.

The cost of the “average annual disease-modifying MS therapy” was $16,050 per patient in 2004, Cummings and Welch said. In 2015, the cost soared to more than $60,000.

By 2017, many of these drugs have increased in price to more than $85,000 per year. One drug, owned by Teva, has increased by more than 1,000% since it was introduced, the politicians said.

Cummings and Welch added: “We are launching an in-depth investigation to determine why drug companies are dramatically increasing their prices for drugs used to treat MS.”

They added that no American should be “forced to struggle to afford life-saving medical treatments, especially when drug companies increase prices without warning, cause or justification”.

Biogen and Novartis confirmed they had received the letter and were reviewing the request.

Roche also confirmed it had received the letter and said that it would “work with the Congressmen to address their request and questions”.

Ocrevus (ocrelizumab), Roche’s MS drug, is priced at approximately 20% lower than the current average price of MS medicines, according to the company.

A spokesperson for EMD Serono said that the company recognised that there are concerns about affordability and access to innovative treatments.

“We believe that patients should have access to quality care, and we are committed to ensuring that our products have broad formulary coverage and that patients can participate in comprehensive patient support programmes,” they said.

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