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Thursday 8 December 2016

Drug Profiteering and Phenytoin. A nasty little epilepsy drug, at a nasty big price!

Imagine you popped off to the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread. Your favourite loaf cost £1.50 last time, but today you discovered it cost nearly £4,000! Driving away you decide to fill your car with petrol at £1.10 per litre, but this discover that the cost is now nearly £3,000 per litre.

This kind of inflation is possible. But only if you are buying pharmaceutical drugs! Big Pharma knows no restraints when it comes to profiteering. It is used to a profit ratio of over 20% when most other industries are happy with 5-10%.

This particular story has been well publicised. The drug company Pfizer has been fined a record £84.2m by Britain's competition regulator for increasing the price of their anti-epilepsy drug, phenytoin sodium, by 2,600%! The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said that the US company "deliberately exploited" the British public, who of course pay for the NHS. It also fined the drugs distributor, Flynn Pharma, £5.2m. Of course, such massive fines are merely back-pocket cash for the drug companies, or as one company director said some years ago, they are an accepted part of their business costs!

And of course this is confirmed by the figures. The amount the NHS was charged for the drug went up from £2.83m to £67.50m in 2012, before being reduced to £54 in May 2014. This increased the cost to the NHS from £2m to £50m in 2012 and 2013, a profit of £96 million for these two years alone. By my calculation, that is a profit, even after the fine is paid!

So what exactly is this drug, Phenytoin? It is an anticonvulsant drug taken by about 48,000 patients in Britain to control seizures, or epilepsy. What is not so well known about the drug, and certainly not mentioned (as usual) by the mainstream media, is that it is a particularly dangerous drug, with particularly nasty side effects. Drug. com provides this summary information (go to the website for more detailed information).

          "Commonly reported side effects of phenytoin include: congenital anomalies. Other side effects include: hepatic necrosis, ataxia, confusion, constipation, depression, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, hypertrichosis, mental status changes, myasthenia, nervousness, numbness, tremor, tremor of hands, vertigo, excitement, irritability, mood changes, and restlessness."

     So the pharmaceutical industry wants us to pay nasty big prices for this nasty little drug!

So is it unusual for drug companies to behave in this way, charging excessive amounts for their drugs? Well not really. Last year a USA drug company was caught in a similar scam, involving Turing Pharmaceuticals, and the drug Daraprim. The price of this drug was raised overnight by over 5,000%. I will let the reader work out the increase on a loaf of bread, or a litre of petrol!

A spokesman for the CMA’s investigation is quoted as saying this about the increased charge for Phenytoin.

          "The companies deliberately exploited the opportunity offered by de-branding to hike up the price for a drug which is relied upon by many thousands of patients. These extraordinary price rises have cost the NHS and the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds."

So do the drug companies think they have done anything wrong? It appears not! Pfizer said they were making a loss on the drug before the 're-branding', and that the price set by Flynn was actually 25-40% lower than the cost of an equivalent tablet from another supplier. They felt that the CMA's findings were wrong. Flynn Pharma complained that the CMA has taken more than three and a half years to reach their decision which was based "on a wholly flawed understanding of the UK pharmaceutical market".

So both companies will appeal, and seek to overturn the CMA's findings in court. Perhaps the bread companies, and the petroleum companies should take note.

No time to write more. Sorry. I'm off to buy a loaf of bread, and fill my car with petrol before they put the price up!