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Pharmaceutical Giant Plotted to Destroy Cancer Drugs

Brian Soong, Staff Writer

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Recently, The Times has revealed that one of the world’s leading drug companies, Aspen Pharmacare, considered ending supplies of life-saving cancer drugs in a campaign to impose large price increases across Europe.

Aspen Pharmacare began an effort to drive up the price of five cancer medicines after buying the rights from another pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
The price increases imposed by Aspen Pharmacare meant that Busulfan, a drug used by leukemia patients, swelled from £5.20 ($6.72) to £65.22 ($84.26)a pack in England and Wales during 2013, resulting in an increase of more than 1,100%. Chlorambucil, a drug used for blood cancer patients, rose from £8.36 ($10.80) to £40.51 ($52.33) the same year.

Aspen Pharmacare was able to increase prices in England and Wales by over ten-fold because a loophole was exploited allowing pharmaceutical companies to impose rises if an existing brand name is dropped. Branded medicines are subject to strict price controls, but the Department of Health does not limit the price of unbranded generics.

Aspen Pharmacare took up an “aggressive” stance to negotiations, even going as far as producing deficits of the medicines or threatening to suspend providing the drugs wholly to force health authorities to accept its demands.

In October 2013, Aspen stated it would suspend providing the drugs to Italy if the authorities did not agree to price increases of up to 2,100% within three months. Although the health service allowed large increases a few months later, there were drug deficits that the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) has declared were organized to raise pressure on the Italian health authorities.

In May 2014, Aspen Pharmacare stopped the direct of supply of five cancer drugs to Spain leaving patients reliant on imported packs of the medicines at much higher prices.

In internal emails in October 2014, an employee at Aspen’s Dublin office asked what should be done with existing Spanish packs of the medicines. A senior executive replied that they could not be sold because Aspen had stopped supplying such packs as a result of the pricing dispute. He added that if the Spanish health ministry did not agree to higher prices, “the only options will be to donate or destroy this stock”.

Photo courtesy of 3DERS.ORG

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Pharmaceutical Giant Plotted to Destroy Cancer Drugs