Multiple Sclerosis Medications — Overpriced? Effective?

Drug companies take advantage of chronically ill patients and their families by aggressively marketing modestly effective drugs at inflated prices, especially in the U.S. This is commonplace for cancer patients who are coerced into paying $50,000-$100,000/year for drugs offering very limited benefit.

The same appears to be true in multiple sclerosis:

The drugs include beta interferons (brand-names like Avonex, Rebif and Betaseron), glatiramer (Copaxone) and natalizumab (Tysabri). They are given by injection or infusion and can help prevent MS symptom flare-ups and delay long-term disability from the disease. But the price tag is large, with each drug now costing upwards of $3,000 a month in the U.S.

And a study in the journal Neurology estimates:

They would gain an extra two months or less of good health over 10 years, the researchers say, compared with using only therapies that help ease MS symptoms — like medications for pain, fatigue and muscle spasms. Overall, the study estimated, DMDs cost close to $1 million for each year of relatively healthy life a person with MS could expect to gain with 10 years of use.

And if the drug is started earlier in the course of the disease:

The researchers estimate that starting the drugs before any noticeable disability makes the medications more cost-effective — though they still hover above $700,000 for each good-quality year of life gained.

It should be noted that while there is no hard and fast rule regarding cost-effectiveness in the U.S., costs exceeding $150,000 for a year of good quality life are consider excessive. Consider also that the average and median incomes in the U.S. are in the $50,000-$60,000 range.

And in the U.S. we get to pay more for the drugs!

Both Noyes and Smyth said the findings highlight a wider issue: the high price Americans pay for prescription drugs.

Avonex, for example, cost Americans with MS about $34,000 for the year in 2010. The price in the UK was equivalent to about $12,000 — because that’s all the National Health Service will pay for the drug.

Medicynical Note: Is it any wonder the PHarma doesn’t want to negotiate prices with Medicare and pays our congressmen and women handsomely in the form of campaign support to maintain the pricing structure in the U.S. It may be “speech” of some sort, but it certainly isn’t free.

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