Forbes Magazine wrote in January that pharmaceutical companies have used the U.S. patent system to ensure profits. One in four families reported that they had concerns with affordability of drugs. In May, President Trump declared that he would make it difficult for drug manufacturers to exploit patent laws.
I have written many times that I believe innovation should be rewarded; however, I-MAK (the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge) recently published a report that highlighted the twelve highest-grossing medications in America. The pharmaceutical companies filed an average of 125 patent requests with 71 granted per each of these twelve drugs. While the patent law is supposed to extend protection for 20 years, these drugs which have all been on the market for more than 15 years could, through patent extensions, have an average of a 38-year monopoly. One third of the drugs have had prices more than double and the average increase across the twelve medications is 68%.
The number one selling drug, Humira, and its therapeutic class equivalent, number four selling Enbrel, are two of the worst culprits. With increases of 144% and 155%, respectively, these medications have had their patent life extended 39 years. It’s no wonder they can afford to be advertised in every magazine and television network – they make a lot of money for their manufacturers AbbVie and Amgen. The patent process example for Lyrica was highlighted in the report, with its first patent filed in 1995 and on the market since 2004, it was slated to go off-patent in 2018. So Pfizer extended the patent life by manufacturing a time-release version, which offers protection to 2038 (43 years total).
Perhaps succumbing to market pressure, the manufacturer of Harvoni, a treatment for Hepatitis C, will be making available in January 2019 a generic version of the relatively new drug at a cost of $24,000 for a basic round of therapy from the prior list price of over $90,000 for the brand name.
I realize that the pharmaceutical industry spends a lot of money on lobbying – but come on! Surely both sides of the aisle can see the absurdity of this. Maybe Harvoni is plotting the new path.