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Pharmaceutical Giant Plotted to Destroy Cancer Drugs to Drive Prices Up 4,000%

How far is the pharmaceutical industry willing to go to increase its bottom line? The Independent reports that industry giant Aspen Pharmacare purchased five cancer drugs from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and used this near-monopoly to hit European buyers with extortionate 40-fold price increases.

What makes this gouging possible is a rule that allows drug companies to increase the price of drugs that have been rebranded. Interestingly, GlaxoSmithKline’s relationship with Aspen Pharmacare goes further than just selling them the five cancer drugs that allowed them to corner the market. GSK also owned 28 million shares of Aspen Pharmacare. They divested themselves last fall and raked in $620 million. After GSK sold their shares, Aspen’s stock tumbled and has never fully rebounded. 

Price gouging and collusion are terrible in their own right, but leaked internal emails show a toxic corporate culture.  Employees apparently “celebrated” the massive price increases and reveled in the leverage they had over customers, patients and even entire countries.

Aspen Pharmacare made the news in 2014 for their protracted battle with Spain. Their tactics go far beyond aggressive deal making and capitalism. In this case, they held patients hostage by increasing the price of their cancer drugs 4,000 percent. They threatened to destroy the drugs in question unless Spain paid the new inflated price. Italy was also victimized by a similar scheme in 2013. 

This most recent incident again involves the threat of destroying drugs unless buyers agree to massive price increases and this time the U.K.’s National Health Service is the target. Busulfan, a leukemia drug that was developed 60 years ago, should be neither scarce nor expensive. Yet, its price has increased from £5.20 ($5.52) to £65.22 ($81.97) in the U.K since 2013. 

Europe is not the only target on Big Pharma’s machinations. Last year the EpiPen scandal brought some much needed attention to the suspect practices of drug makers. If you suffer from allergies to food, insect stings, medications or latex and are at risk of anaphylaxis, an EpiPen could save your life. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that may occur just minutes after exposure to an allergen.

Most of the EpiPen cost increases took place in the last three years, and it was suggested that Mylan may be hiking prices before the introduction of a generic, which was expected out last year. The generic was rejected by the FDA. This left Mylan free to operate in a field bereft of competition. Mylan has tried to downplay the drug's outrageous cost by saying that most patients have insurance coverage and they offer coupons to help reduce co-payments.

A monopoly is not synonymous with quality. The FDA announced an EpiPen recall on March 31st, 2017. This is a troubling turn of events due to the time contingent nature of this medical intervention. An emergency anti-allergy device that doesn’t work poses an immediate and life threatening danger to consumers. 

To lower your own drug costs, consider generic equivalents or purchasing your drugs from a reputable Canadian pharmacy whenever possible. Even more important, however, is to take control of your health — the first and best step to reducing your reliance on drugs now and in the future.

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