Pharmaceutical companies have been known to discredit natural, cheap solutions that compete with their high-dollar drugs. Now, the British Medical Journal has unraveled new research revealing how the makers of a cancer drug are blocking public access to a cheaper, safe, and effective alternative.
The BMJ explains that Novartis, a company which markets a licensed cancer drug known as Lucentis, which is used for macular degeneration, tried to derail research on another treatment called Avastin. Novartis denies this claim, but they have the market cornered because they sell the only officially licensed drug in the UK.
Many doctors use Avastin as a cheaper but unlicensed alternative to treat wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects more than 26,000 people in the UK annually. Approximately 11 million in the US have been diagnosed with some sort of macular degeneration with that number expected to double by 2050.
Lucentis costs the NHS around £740 per dose (around $1,100 US dollars).
Avastin, on the other hand, would cost between £50 and £65 per dose.
Doctors still prescribe it, though it hasn’t been authorized to be used for macular degeneration. Some doctors are concerned about being personally liable if they prescribe the cheaper drug, and therefore, don’t.
Oddly, both drugs are owned by the same company, Roche, but Lucentis is marketed by Novartis in the UK.
The BMJ claims it has evidence that clinicians with ties to Novartis urged some primary care trusts to pull out of one trial, and alleges the company tried to halt a second UK trial.
And Big Pharma’s move to skyrocket drug prices is nothing new – especially when it comes to price differences between the US and other nations.
In an article back in 2013 in The New York Times, author Elisabeth Rosenthal explains:
“Albuterol, one of the oldest asthma medicines, typically costs $50 to $100 per inhaler in the United States, but it was less than $15 a decade ago, before it was repatented.”
This is just one of many examples.
The journal’s Editor-in-Chief, Dr Fiona Godlee, explains that Big Pharma companies should not be able to impede public access to alternative drugs:
“Doctors’ leaders also need to sort out the web of misinformation about drug prescribing that has been generated behind closed doors, and is costing the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds a year by scaring doctors from using cheap and effective medicines.”
A spokesman for Novartis responded:
“We take any allegations seriously and are closely reviewing the content of the article.
Novartis is committed to improving health outcomes for patients with serious eye disease as demonstrated by our substantial engagement in ophthalmology, including significant research and development efforts in the UK.
Novartis continuously conducts clinical trials in the UK and other countries.
Discussions with UK study sites and healthcare professionals occur during all stages of these clinical trials.
During the feasibility stage these discussions often focus on the capacity and capability to conduct studies in accordance with the highest clinical and ethical standards.”
In November 2014, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists called for Avastin to be made available for treating the condition on the NHS, arguing that switching to the drug could save the NHS £100m.
Additionally, 120 clinical commissioning groups called on ministers and NHS England to clarify regulations that make it hard for physicians to prescribe Avastin for wet AMD.
This article is meant to simply showcase one of the many ways that Big Pharma practices corruption.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.