Health

Report: Drug Company Considered Destroying Cancer Meds

| by Michael Allen

Employees at Aspen Pharmacare reportedly considered destroying life-saving cancer medications as part of an effort to raise drug prices.

Aspen bought the rights to five cancer medicines from the British drug company GlaxoSmithKline, and then began to work on raising the prices of those drugs in Europe, according to The Times.

In February 2014, Spanish news site El Confidencial Digital noted that Aspen threatened to stop selling its drugs in Spain if its price hikes were not approved by the country's Ministry of Health, noted The Local.

The price increase reportedly included increasing the price of Melphalan, which is used for ovarian and skin cancers, by 1,000 percent, and Leukeran, which is used to treat leukemia, by 4,000 percent.

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A leaked Aspen email showed that Aspen staff considered destroying stocks of medication if Spain did not give in, reports the Daily Mail.

The Times reports that busulfan, a chemotherapy drug, went up from about $6.50 to $81.70 in England and Wales, notes The Independent.

Leukeran and Melphalan went up by four times their original cost.

Generic cancer drugs, bought and resold by Aspen, cost Britain's public health care system, the National Health Service, more than $475 million per year for prescriptions not dispensed in hospitals, according to an estimate by the European Cancer Congress.

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An internal Aspen email, obtained by The Times, said: "We’ve signed new reimbursement and price agreement successfully: price increases are basically on line with European target prices (Leukeran, a bit higher!)... Let’s celebrate!"

Aspen also allegedly threatened to cut off its cancer drugs for Italy in October 2013 if the country did not agree to price increases of up to 2,100 percent.

Italy reportedly gave into Aspen after medicine shortages were "allegedly orchestrated to increase pressure."

Dennis Dencher, head of Aspen Pharma Europe, told The Times the increase of prices were at "appropriate levels" to "promote long-term sustainable supply." Dencher also said that the lower prices were "unsustainable."

Aspen denied that there were any deliberate shortages of medicine, but did not comment about the reported proposed destruction of cancer drugs by its employees.

Aspen was able to increase its generic drug prices in the U.K. by taking its name off the medications, which made them "unbranded" and not subject to price approval by the country's Department of Health.

A department spokesperson said the U.K. wants to crack down on high prices for unbranded generic medicines:

No pharmaceutical company should exploit the NHS. We are working closely with the Competition and Markets Authority on unwarranted price rises of unbranded generic medicines, and where companies have breached competition law, we will seek damages and invest that money in the NHS. We are also bringing in new laws this year so we can take action against excessive price rises on unbranded generic medicines.

Sources: The Times, Daily Mail, The Local, The Independent / Photo credit: Health Gauge/Flickr

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