Cost of cancer drug in Canada drops after court ruling
TORONTO - A U.S. company that sells a thalidomide-based drug into Canada has agreed to lower the price of the medication.
The offer is the result of a review of the product undertaken by the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, an economic tribunal set up by the federal government.
Calgene Corp. of Summit, N.J., agreed to permanently lower the prices it charges for Thalomid, a drug containing thalidomide, melphalan and prednisone.
Thalidomide was long banned because it caused substantial birth defects in babies born to women who took it for morning sickness in the early 1960s.
But it has had a resurgence, after having been found to be effective for several other conditions, including multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.
Myeloma patients have complained about the high price of the drug, which can run to tens of thousands of dollars a year, and some even have gone to great lengths to try to access cheaper supplies in places like Mexico and India.
The Patented Medicine Prices Review Board announced this week that Calgene had signed a voluntary compliance understanding -- in essence a settlement with the board. The upshot? Somewhat lower costs for people who need the drug.
"The key for Canadians is to see a reduction in price," says Michelle Boudreau, executive director of the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board.
"And in this case we got both a reduction in price of the Thalomid products, in fact all strengths of Thalomid, a permanent reduction for the duration of the patents ... and also a commitment from the company to continue its compassionate release program."
Under its compassionate release program, Calgene will make Thalomid and another of its drugs, Revlimid -- also for multiple myeloma -- available to people who cannot afford to pay for the drugs. As well, the company agreed to pay $10 million to the government of Canada.
The undertaking -- which is not an admission of excess pricing by the company -- is the final step in a lengthy tussle with the company that started when someone complained to the review board about the cost of Thalomid.
The drug was being sold for $31.35 a pill for the 50-milligram dose, $62.70 for 100 mg and $125.40 for 200 mg. Under the voluntary compliance undertaking, those dosage prices will be lowered to $29.61, $59.22 and $118.44 respectively.
The new pricing regime will remain in place for as long as the drug is under the review board's jurisdiction -- in other words as long as it is under patent. Calgene's last Canadian patent for Thalomid expires in mid-November 2023.
When the review board, which is mandated to ensure patented medicine prices are "not excessive" in Canada, launched a review of Thalomid's pricing, Calgene argued the tribunal didn't have jurisdiction over the drug.
At the time, Thalomid was not licensed in Canada (it now is) and was sold to Canadians under Health Canada's special access program. The company argued that as it didn't make direct sales to Canada, the board didn't have the authority to review the drug's price.
The dispute was argued all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in January 2011 that the review board did have jurisdiction in the case.
Boudreau said since the ruling the company has worked with the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board to come up with the voluntary compliance undertaking.