This was first published as an op-ed in the Buck’s County Courier Times, February 9, 2022.
I am a scientist and have worked in the pharmaceutical industry. I believe in and love science.
I am also a retired senior citizen, dependent on Social Security and Medicare. Hence, costs are important to me, especially that of medicines. Biogen’s antibody aducanumab — marketed as the brand name Aduhelm — for Alzheimer’s disease should not have been approved in the first place.
The approval process was torturous. Two large trials showed no convincing clinical benefit, that is, slowing patient’s cognitive decline. An independent advisory committee voted overwhelmingly against approval. Yet it was approved.
This raises some unpleasant questions. Why was it approved and who benefits? Not the patients. A famous line comes to mind, “Just follow the money.” There is a reason why people are increasingly skeptical about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC; and what doctors say.
It was initially priced at $56,000 per annum, a totally outrageous price. It was later cut back to $28,200 which is interesting in itself. If Biogen can make a profit on this price, how or why did they initially charge $56,000? To fleece patients because they could? Obviously, Biogen is still making a tidy profit at the lower price.
The Medicare Part B premium was increased by $22 this year, of which $11 will be used to create a fund to pay for this drug. This is the first time one pricey drug has led to a premium increase for all Medicare recipients, not just affected patients.
Why? Because Aduhelm is given as an intravenous infusion in the doctor’s office. This has to stop or every pharmaceutical company that develops antibodies as drugs — there are many and it’s increasing — will be tempted to take this route.
I can almost visualize the ads on television. A well-dressed and well-groomed elderly person intoning in a rich baritone, “I can feel my memory improving after I started taking this. It makes me feel sharper and younger. It could do the same for you. Talk to your doctor.”
Very seductive indeed. Naturally, seeing these ads, seniors will rush to their doctors to clamor for it. And that, precisely, is the goal. Biogen makes a lot of money. Benefit for the patients? Very questionable.
And Medicare part B premiums will keep spiraling upward, $22 this year, then $50, maybe $150 the year after. Can retirees on a fixed income afford this increase, especially with inflation running rampant? And can Medicare keep up without raising taxes and/or cutting benefits?
The recent Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS, decision is to pay only for CMS approved clinical trials with Aduhelm until its efficacy is clearly established is therefore necessary. This plan is nicely explained in Bach and Garthwaite’s (June 17) opinion piece.
Health care costs are bankrupting us. I am constantly amazed at the exhortations from our elected representatives to do something about it and then their inability to follow through. Maybe they cannot or probably will not.
But we can do a few things. First, start by writing or calling our elected representatives about this problem. They know but they need to hear our frustration. There needs to be political action. And second, try and maintain a healthy life style through diet and exercise. This will lead to fewer doctor visits and fewer medicines to take. We will benefit on many fronts. Save money and enjoy a better quality of life.
Your article has raised very relevant questions on ethics in pharmaceutical research. I found the content very apt….leela
Thanks Leela for reading and your comment.
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Ranjan, in your article you have nicely covered several aspects of drug approval process, pharmaceutical companies intent of making money but spreading the message “serving unmet medical needs of patients”, the shortcomings of the system/process, the real pressure in the wallet and the pain of the retiring American. It is high time an advocacy group brings to the Govt to restrain from setting a dangerous precedence to fund profit making pharmaceutical industries from hard earned taxpayers money.
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Many thanks Ajit for your comments. As more people (not just retirees) feel the pain, something will be done, hopefully.