September 17, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
The cost of health care is rising. Millions across the country are struggling to afford their prescription medications. This crisis is driven largely by the arbitrary rise in prescription drugs costs.
Several reasons exist for absurdly high drug costs, but the most often overlooked cause is the abuse that the U.S. patent system takes at the hands of Big Pharma. As Congress considers measures for tackling the crisis of skyrocketing prescription drug costs this fall, one thing is clear: Patent reform must be included in any legislation that aims to fix this crisis.
Thankfully, Big Pharma’s patent abuse is not going entirely unrecognized. There is a growing chorus of voices dedicated to advancing bipartisan legislation that would lower drug prices and prevent the big pharmaceutical companies from continuing to exploit the patent system while also fostering innovation and putting patients first. Some legislators have even started to take action.
Pending in the Senate is the Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act, introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas). The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act would be a significant first step toward ending Big Pharma’s tactics for delaying or outright preventing competition from generic drug alternatives, but it should not be the only step. Legislators must do more — Big Pharma’s abuse is simply costing sick Americans too much.
Once you know what to look for, the cynical pattern of patent abuse by Big Pharma is not hard to spot. Its anti-competitive behavior is happening at the expense of every sick American. Pharmaceutical companies are regularly attempting to undermine the innovative spirit of the patent system and extend their monopoly on their products. The tactics often employed by these companies are tactics of delay, but make no mistake, every single delay is a victory worth millions of dollars off the backs of the sick.
Want to know just how far Big Pharma is willing to go in its abuse of the U.S. patent system? You need to look no further than the lengths AbbVie has gone to in order to safeguard its profits. AbbVie is the producer of Humira, the world’s best-selling drug used primarily to treat arthritis. In the United States, Humira costs, on average, nearly $5,800. AbbVie has filed 247 patent applications on Humira alone — 89 percent of which were filed after the drug was on the market. With its government-approved monopoly firmly in place and no competition to keep prices reasonable, the average price increases on Humira in the United States are over six times greater than inflation every year.
AbbVie brings in about $583 a second, or $18.4 billion a year, from Humira. What’s worse is that AbbVie is hardly the only pharmaceutical company engaging in these under-handed tactics. Others are doing the same thing.
Sanofi has utilized similar tactics with its diabetes medication, Lantus. Lantus was approved in 2000, with its first patent expiring in 2015. A total of 74 patent applications were filed on Lantus, with 95 percent of those being filed after the drug hit the market. The most recent patent granted for Lantus will expire in 2031.
Between 2012 and 2016, the total Medicare and Medicaid spending on Lantus increased by 132 percent. Efforts to introduce competition to Lantus have been continually held up by patent litigation — litigation that allows Lantus to bring in $5.7 billion a year unhindered by competition.
It is time to tackle the rising cost of health care and prescription drugs. And, with Americans paying significantly more than citizens of other high-income countries for the same prescription drugs, it is vital that legislation meant to tackle the drug pricing crisis include provisions to end Big Pharma’s reckless abuse of our patent system.
The Coalition Against Patent Abuse stands ready to work alongside congressional lawmakers to find solutions for ending Big Pharma’s reckless abuse of the patent system.
Matthew Lane is the executive director of the Coalition Against Patent Abuse.
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