Bayer CEO Marijn Dekkers says that his company’s drug isn’t for poor people, confirming what many of us have long said about big pharma and the American
healthcare illness management system.
The cancer medication, Nexavar, is an FDA approved treatment for late stage kidney and liver cancer.
Dekkers made the comment in an interview to Bloomberg Businessweek, in response to a decision made in India to allow a local company to reproduce Bayer’s drug. Under India’s patent laws, if a product is not available at an affordable price, local companies may apply for a compulsory license to reproduce these products at a lower price.
In India, Nexavar costs $69,000 for a full year of treatment; that’s 41 times more than India’s annual per capita income.
If Nexavar cost 41 times the per capita income of the United States, it would cost $1.6 million–yes, million–for a full year of treatment.
The Indian pharmaceutical company Natco Pharma Ltd was granted the license to reproduce the drug in India in 2012. They have managed to make it available at a 97% discounted rate; it now costs only $177 instead of $69,000.
“We did not develop this medicine for Indians…we developed it for western patients who can afford it,” said Dekkers in the December interview. He says that this is “essentially theft.”
Bayer is appealing the ruling in court, saying it needs the revenue to fund research for new drugs. Yet they refuse to provide the costs of research and development for Nexavar–some of which was offset by subsidies from the United States government.
One would think that if the cost of Bayer’s investment actually justified what appears to be an astronomical sense of greed, Bayer wouldn’t have an issue with transparency, and publicize the costs, to prove their point as to why this pricey pill needs to remain so pricey.
But, they don’t.
Dekkers’ comments reflect not only a disregard for the poor of India, but also a dismissal of the poor here in the Western world who can’t afford the costly drug.
While there certainly are some “Westerners who can afford it,” there are millions upon millions who can’t.
In the United Kingdom, for example, the National Health Service (NHS) is unable to offer Nexavar because it costs around £3,000 GBP–that’s $5, 187 USD–a month. There is no generic equivalent.
In the United States, Nexavar costs about $96,000 for a full year of treatment. Insurance picks up the majority of the tab, so Bayer has ever so kindly ensured that insured patients have only a $100 monthly co-pay.
Yet with some 55 million people uninsured prior to Obamacare and projections estimating there will still be at least–at minimum–30 million or more uninsured after, Dekker’s callous comments about the poor of India should send a chill down your spine.
Like the United Kingdom, the United States has no generic version available. Bayer has exclusive rights and patents to it so there’s no way a generic could become available without Bayer’s consent, which obviously wouldn’t be given.
Bayer does have a patient assistance program in the United States. A similar patient assistance program was developed in India in 2008; it obviously provided little to no assistance because despite its advent, only 2% of the patient population was able to obtain Nexavar.
If it can be reproduced so cheaply in India–while Natco is still pulling what is reported to be a 30% profit margin and Bayer is still being a paid a mandatory 6% royalties–why then, can it not be done here?
Because big pharma is all about the Benjamins, baby.
Sources: Forbes, thinkprogress.org, BBC
April Dawn (@scarlettsinatra)
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