In a shameless example from the US of profiteering at the expense of the vulnerable, international pharma giant Mylan has steadily increased the price of its EpiPens, which are needed to battle against some food allergies, especially in the young. Over the past five years alone, the price of the drug has been boosted by nearly six times, despite there being negligible increases in the costs of production. A single pack of the drug now costs almost Rs 50,000, making it impossible for not just the poor but significant sections of the middle class. The way in which the price has increased of a drug that enjoys almost a monopoly status in the market for count-allergens, demonstrates the way in which Big Pharma and successive US administrations have colluded to fleece the taxpayer in the name of “encouraging research”. Unfortunately, President Barack Obama has been as zealous in protecting the privileges of the pharmaceutical lobby as any of his predecessors. India in particular has been a target of this, with officials from the US joining hands with their EU counterparts to seek to gut the generic drugs industry in this country. Although Bill Clinton is making loud noises these days about providing affordable drugs to the poor, in his avatar as President of the US, he was brutal in his efforts at preventing generic drugs manufacturers in India from sending low cost medication to patients in the US. More than any other agency, it was the pressure of civil society groups that forced Clinton and his successors to moderate their assault on the Indian pharmaceutical industry and allow the export of drugs for specific diseases, such as AIDS. But for cheap medication from India, the AIDS epidemic would have taken several hundreds of thousands more lives than it has thus far, and for this, a small number of companies in India should get the credit. It is shameful that the US and the EU have joined hands for so long to seek to gut the laws and procedures that ensure a plentiful supply of low cost generic drugs from India, all the while proclaiming their fealty to the cause of the poor across the world.
In the case of EpiPen, a generic drugs company in the US, Teva Pharmaceuticals has sought to market a lower cost alternative, but has been subject to a barrage of negative publicity sourced from Mylan’s backers. The drug company has been ruthless in fending off competition and in getting support for its predatory pricing practices, including within the US and the EU. Of course, if the average consumer were as well off as Heather Bresch, the CEO of Mylan, there would be no problem paying the extortionate prices that are charged for drugs. Ms Bresch took home a remuneration of more than a hundred crore of rupees last year alone, and this year is expected to be even better from the point of view of her bank balance. Despite the outcry that its high prices for a lifesaving drug have caused, Mylan has refused to lower the price. Clearly, the fact that several individuals will suffer agony and possibly even death as a consequence of not being able to afford its medicines has not been regarded as sufficient reason to reduce prices to more reasonable levels. In this, it is assisted by the fact that rival Big Pharna companies adopt the same super high prices structures for their medication. The Wall Street Journal points out that rival products of DEpiPen such as Adrenaclick and Auvi-Q have also retailed at the same high prices as EpiPen. The entire episode holds a lesson for the Ministry of Health. Despite lobbying and worse from pharma majors in wealthy locations, the ministry needs to ensure that predatory pricing not be resorted to in India, and that the generic drugs industry be given the conditions it needs to produce and market low cost high quality alternatives to the drugs made by US and EU pharma giants. Also, the recent moves towards takeover of Indian generic drugs companies should be watched to ensure that prices are not allowed to spike following such takeovers. The rights of the underprivileged have precedence over the greed of the billionaires controlling Big Pharma. The example of the sharp and steady in cases in price of EpiPen should not be replicated in India, a country where up to 300 million people are still desperately poor and in need of medication.