Employees plot to destroy stocks of life-saving chemotherapy medicines A leaked email exchange indicates that employees at the international pharmaceutical company Aspen Pharmacare discussed a plot to destroy stocks of life-saving chemotherapy medicines during a price dispute with the Spanish health service in 2014.
A senior executive at Aspen discussed destroying supplies of generic cancer drugs as part of a price battle with health authorities in Spain, according to the British newspaper The Times. The British newspaper The Independent reports that Aspen threatened to stop selling the chemotherapy drugs in Spain unless authorities agree to the price increases. News reports indicate that the price increases in Spain were part of a plan to raise prices for the drugs throughout Europe.
The price increases were made possible by a loophole that allows drug companies to change the price of medicines if they are no longer branded with the same name. The loophole is designed to make drugs cheaper once their patents have expire, but if a drug company has no competition for a drug, it is free to raise prices.
The attorneys at Parker Waichman have been advocates for those who have been victims of unfair drug pricing schemes.
Aspen Pharmacare, valued at $10 billion, sells products globally, including in the United States, according Medscape. Aspen, which is based in South Africa and has its European headquarters in Dublin, bought the five drugs from GSK in 2009 as part of a deal worth more than $350 million U.S.
Dramatic Price Increases for Aspen Chemotherapy Drugs
The drugs involved in the pricing issue include busulfan-marketed under the Aspen brand name Myleran. Busalfan is used in the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia, brain malignancies, and in stem cell transplantation. In England and Wales, the price of busulfan increased in 2013 from £5.20 to £65.22 per pack of tablets (in U.S. dollars, at the current exchange rate, an increase from about $6.75 to more than $84), a spike of more than 1,100 percent, after Aspen acquired the drug.
Another of the drugs, chlorambucil (Leukeran), used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, rose from £8.36 to £40.51 ($10.80 to $52.40) per pack. Mercaptupurine (Puri-Nethol), a drug for the treatment of acute lymphocytic leukemia, melphalan (Alkeran), for skin and ovarian cancers, also became up to four times more expensive. The Aspen drugs are generic but have had no significant competition from other manufacturers, Medscape reports.
In Spain, the situation became so acrimonious that Aspen halted supplies of the five drugs starting in May 2014. In October, a staff member in Aspen’s Dublin office, the European headquarters, asked about what to do with the cancer drugs that were created and packaged for the Spanish market. A senior executive replied that the drugs could not be sold because of the pricing dispute and that if the Spanish health ministry did not agree to higher prices, “the only options will be to donate or destroy this stock.”
Aspen reportedly used similar tactics with Italian health authorities, creating shortages of their drugs or threatening to stop supplying the chemotherapy drugs to force Italy to accept dramatically higher prices.
The cost of generic cancer drugs is an issue worldwide. Medscape Medical News reports that the price of generic cancer drugs have increased a thousandfold in in the United Kingdom in recent years. Busulfan is made in India, where it costs about four cents (U.S.) per pill.
Andrew Hill, Ph.D., a senior research fellow in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of Liverpool, called some of the price increases outrageous. He explained that companies can get away with these price increases because they have a monopoly on particular products.
Generic drugs are cheaper than brand name versions because makers of generics do not face the same costs as manufacturers of brand-name drugs. Manufacturers of generic do not have to invest millions in research and development or in the marketing of the drug. Clinical trials have already been conducted. The only burden on the generic drug maker is to demonstrate to regulators that the generic version is as safe and effective in humans as the original drug, according to the Washington Post.