There is a reason many people do not trust Big Pharma- they keep giving us a reason not to! And it seems we have one more. It’s been reported in leaked emails that staff at Aspen Pharmacare both plotted to “destroy stocks of life-saving medicines during a price dispute with the Spanish health service in 2014”1 and called for a “celebration” over price hikes. 2
South African based Pharmacare bought the five drugs from GlaxoSmithKline in 2009 as part of a deal worth £273m then tried to sell them in Europe for up to 40 times their previous price:3
- In 2013 one pack of a generic chemotherapy drug called busulfan (for leukemia) rose from £5.20 to £65.22 in England and Wales.
- The four other drugs saw rate hikes of up to four times more expensive than they previously were.
- It’s been estimated that those price hikes for generic cancer drugs, on prescriptions dispensed outside of the hospital, cost the NHS in England around £380m a year.
When bargaining over prices in Spain, the company allegedly threatened to stop selling the cancer treatments unless the health minister agreed to price increases of up to 4,000 per cent. And in Italy, the company said it would stop supplying the drugs in October 2013 if authorities didn’t agree to price increases of up to 2,100 per cent in three months.
(Price increases were possible thanks to a loophole allowing drug companies to change the price of medicines if they are no longer branded with the same name. But that loophole was designed to make drugs cheaper once their patents expire- unless a drug company has no competition, then they are free to raise prices as well. I know, it’s a mess.)
A Department of Health spokesperson said new laws were being introduced this year to allow the Government to take action against behavior like this because “No pharmaceutical company should exploit the NHS.”4Now if we could just get the American government to feel the same way.
Oh wait, they are all in cahoots so it’s not likely that will happen anytime soon.