Maker of $700K-a-year drug challenging Canada's right to regulate prices
Published Monday, September 28, 2015 8:48AM EDT
A dispute over what has been called the world’s most expensive medication is calling into question whether the Canadian government should even have the right to control drug prices.
Alexion Pharmaceuticals has filed a motion in Federal Court, arguing that the federal government has no authority to force the company to lower the cost of Soliris, a drug that helps treat two life-threatening blood disorders. A course of treatment with the drug costs upwards of $700,000 per patient, per year.
Canada's Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB), which ensures the prices of patented medicines sold in Canada are not excessive, has determined that Alexion has been charging too much for Soliris over the last three years. It alleges the price for the drug is “appreciably higher” than in the United States, where it costs about $30,000 a year less.
Amir Attaran, an associate professor of law and population health at the University of Ottawa, tells CTV’s Canada AM that the PMPRB is a quasi-judicial board that “is to drugs what the CRTC is to cable TV,” approving the price of new drugs that enter the Canadian market.
Pharmaceutical companies that don’t like the board’s decisions are entitled to a hearing to argue their case.
The U.S.-based Alexion argues that the board should not exist at all and that Parliament “overstepped its constitutional authority when it gave the (board) the power to regulate drug prices.”
The motion was filed Sept. 11 and gives the government one month to respond. Oddly, Attaran says neither the health minister nor federal lawyers have commented on what action they are planning to take.
“There’s less than two weeks to respond and the government hasn’t said a word about it. We don’t know if they’re going to fight this or not, because they won’t say,” he said.
If Alexion is successful and manages to quash the board, Attaran says it will affect almost every Canadian who takes a patented prescription medication.
He says the company is trying to force Canada to adopt a drug pricing system like that seen in the U.S. and Chile, which are the only two OECD countries that don't control drug prices.
“We will be seeing possibly some of the most expensive patented drugs in the world,” he said.
As for Soliris, Alexion denies that the drug is more expensive that in other countries, saying the price has not increased since Soliris came to Canada in 2009, nor has it decreased in other countries.
It says the board's allegations of excessive pricing between 2012 and 2014 are the result of the fluctuations in the Canadian dollar.
With reports from The Canadian Press