Justice

Company Jacks Up the Price of a Baby-Saving Drug

A pharmaceutical company based in Ireland has come under fire after raising the price of an epilepsy drug for infants by about 2,000 percent, CBC News reports.

Parents and healthcare professionals say that the price hike of Synacthen Depot, a drug used to treat a rare and dangerous form of infantile epilepsy called West syndrome, seemed to happen overnight.

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Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals acquired Synacthen Depot last year and recently raised the price from $33.05 to $680 per vial, according to Carolyn Ziegler, a spokeswoman for Alberta Health. The story has reminded many of what happened earlier this year, when Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli upped to cost of Daraprim by 5,000 percent.

Synacthen

Infantile spasms are treated as an emergency, requiring immediate medical attention. And while the first-choice drug only works about half of the time, the second-choice drug, Synacthen Depot, is effective 90 percent of the time. The price hike was so dramatic that Alberta Health, a Canadian government agency responsible for overseeing Alberta's health system, had to drop the drug from its list of medications automatically covered by the providence.

While a government review board can regulate pricing for patented drugs (those owned by only one company) in Canada, it cannot control prices for generic drugs such as Synacthen Depot. State agencies are supposed to have some influence over the pricing of generic drugs, but like the American healthcare system, there are loopholes that limit the Canadian government's regulatory power.

"This was just dropped like a bombshell," Dr. Carter Snead, a neurologist at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, told CBC News. "They just bought it and jacked up the price... If the seizures aren't treated, the child will not regain any milestones."

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Mallinckrodt claims that the price increase was due to changes in the manufacturing of the drug, but the company has declined to provide additional details about what those changes are and how they justify a 2,000 percent price hike. ATTN: reached out to Mallinckrodt, but a representative could not be reached by the time of publication.

In a statement to CBC News, Mallinckrodt said:

"When Mallinckrodt acquired Questcor in 2014, Synacthen Depot was one of the products in the portfolio. It was losing money then and still is. Moreover, in the spring of 2014, Mallinckrodt was told by the existing supplier of the product that they would cease production in early 2016."

If this story sounds familiar, that's probably because it shares a lot in common with the Turing Pharmaceuticals scandal from this summer. Like Mallinckrodt, Turing CEO Martin Shkreli acquired a cheap, life-saving drug and dramatically raised the price. In Turing's case, the cost of a pill went up from $13.50 to $750. In response to the widespread public backlash, however, Shkreli announced that the company would "modestly lower" the price of Daraprim by December 25.

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