Bernie Sanders Questions Staggering Price of Cancer Drug

“Members of Congress can no longer allow the drug companies to charge our people the highest prices in the world. We have to make a stand.”

Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Responsible for causing a pharmaceutical company’s stock price to plummet last week with a mere tweet, Sen. Bernie Sanders sent a caustic letter along with Rep. Elijah Cummings on Thursday asking the CEO of ARIAD Pharmaceuticals why the corporation chose to drastically raise the price of a drug used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia. Referring to ARIAD’s sales tactics as “outrageous,” Sanders and Cummings continue to lead the charge against the recent trend of pharmaceutical companies overcharging their patients within the U.S.

“We are writing today to request information about ARIAD Pharmaceuticals, Inc.’s (ARIAD) repeated and staggering price increases for the drug Iclusig (ponatinib),” Sen. Sanders and Rep. Cummings wrote in a letter to ARIAD President and CEO, Paris Panayiotopoulos. “Reports indicate Iclusig has undergone multiple price increases over the last four years – including four price increases this year alone – adding more than $80,000 to the drug’s already high annual price tag.”

Initially priced at $9,580 a month in 2012, Iclusig currently costs $16,561 a month or nearly $199,000 a year despite the fact that the drug was briefly pulled from the market for safety concerns. In their letter, Sanders and Cummings also accused ARIAD of recently doubling the cost of the drug in an attempt to rip off their patients.

“Not only did ARIAD raise the price of Iclusig, but it reportedly took additional steps to further boost company profits by discontinuing sales of a two-month (60-tablet) supply of its 15 mg dose, and instead selling a 30-tablet supply of the same dose for the same price – effectively doubling the cost for patients,” Sanders and Cummings wrote. “We also seek your reply to reports that ARIAD discontinued sales of the 30 mg tablet of Iclusig, a common therapeutic dose, in an effort to require patients and insurers to pay twice as much for two 15 mg doses, another way to increase profits. These outrageous sales tactics indicate that ARIAD is more concerned with its profit than with its patients.”

Although failing to respond directly to their accusations, ARIAD did release a statement rationalizing, “The Company recognizes the high cost of innovative oncology drugs and believes in the importance and efficacy of its products. Importantly, to achieve its mission, ARIAD has invested more than $1.3 billion in R&D and accumulated losses of approximately $1.4 billion since the Company was founded, which have not been recovered. In 2015, ARIAD generated $119 million in total revenue and invested $171 million, or 143% of revenue, in R&D. After years of risk-taking and research, the Company has brought its first product to market serving a very small and seriously ill group of cancer patients.”

On Thursday, Sanders took to Twitter and wrote, “Members of Congress can no longer allow the drug companies to charge our people the highest prices in the world. We have to make a stand.”

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