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Politicians And Doctors React To High-Priced Medication For Seriously Ill Patients

There was a firestorm of controversy when Martin Shkreli, the founder of Turing Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of Daraprim, an anti-bacterial medication used to combat Malaria and infections in patients with HIV and cancer, from $13.50 to $750 per pill in September.

Though Shkreli decided to lower price of the medication in light of the backlash, the practice of price gouging crucial medications is not uncommon. 

One such example is the cancer drug Gleevec, a year's supply of which costs $159 to make, NPR's Common Health reports. A year’s worth of treatment costs $106,322 in the U.S. and $31,867 in the U.K.

“We were quite surprised just how cheap a lot of these cancer drugs really are,” pharmacologist Andrew Hill of the University of Liverpool told NPR's Common Health. “There’s a lot of scope for prices to come down.”

When Gleevec, which is highly effective for treating certain types of leukemia, was released in 2001, a year’s worth of treatment cost about $30,000, according to CNN. However, the price has skyrocketed over the last decade.

"Thousands of people are alive today because of the development and introduction of targeted [chronic myeloid leukemia] therapies," Julie Masow, spokeswoman for Novartis, the company that sells Gleevec, wrote in a statement to CNN. "Today, nine out of ten patients with CML have a normal lifespan and are leading productive lives.”

Physicians believe the high price tag can exclude poorer patients from adequate care.

"We believe the unsustainable drug prices in CML and cancer may be causing harm to patients,” a group of over 120 cancer researchers and physicians wrote in the American Society of Hematology's medical journal “Blood,” according to CNN.

Dr. Hagop Kantarjian, the paper's lead author and chairman of the leukemia department at the University of Texas' MD Anderson Cancer Center, doesn’t believe the increased cost is justified.

"These price increases do not reflect the cost of development of drugs or the benefit they provide to the patient," he told CNN. "They are simply related to the drug companies' wish to increase profits beyond a reasonable range.”

Public outcry over Daraprim may force politicians to address the issue, but high-priced medications have plagued patients and their families for years. NPR's Common Health notes the Obama administration is reportedly working on a plan to control the price of medication, and presidential candidates are addressing the issue as well.

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill with Rep. Elijah Cummings in September which would allow Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, allow consumers to import cheaper medication from Canada, and force companies to disclose how much they charge overseas, the Wall Street Journal reported. Outside of Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail, Sanders has addressed high-priced medication.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has already introduced a proposal to control the prices of prescription drugs. According to her website, she would stop direct-to-consumer drug company advertising subsidies and require that drug companies invest in research. Additionally, she plans to cap out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs for patients with chronic or serious health conditions and increase competition for prescription drugs, which would drive down the price.

For his part, Kantarjian believes this marks a turning point for the pharmaceutical industry.

"I'm hoping that this will be the trigger for a national dialogue on cancer drug prices, and the prices of drugs in general," he said. "Patients are suffering. And some patients are dying.”

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Common Health, Hillary Clinton, CNN / Photo credit: Global Panorama/Flickr


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