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Pharma Company Under Fire for Extreme Price Hike on Anti-Seizure Drug

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Global pharmaceutical company Mallinckrodt has just put a 2,000 percent price increase on Synacthen Depot, a drug it sells in Canada used to treat infantile spasms, a rare and serious form of epilepsy.

Synacthen Depot is an injectable medicine, and Carolyn Ziegler, a spokesperson for Alberta Health, told CBC it went from $33.05 per vial to $680 per vial.

Mia Brooks, a mom in British Columbia whose son needs the drug to treat his seizures, calls the price increase “absurd,” adding to CBC that “there’s no way we can access that amount of money.”

When an infant is experiencing a seizure, doctors start with the drug Acthar, but because 50 percent of patients don’t respond to that, Synacthen Depot is the second choice for treatment.

Dr. Jacqueline French, the chief scientific officer for the Epilepsy Foundation, weighed in on the importance of these drugs for people living with epilepsy.

“Infantile spasms is a rare but devastating seizure condition, affecting the most vulnerable of our population, young babies,” French said in a statement to The Mighty. “When it is diagnosed, control of seizures is urgent. If seizures continue, there can be devastating consequences, including  stunted cognitive, motor, and social development and lifelong epilepsy. Synacthen is one of a small number of drugs that can treat this devastating condition and, in Canada, is the one that is often used to stop the spasms. Availability of lifesaving drugs such as this is essential for our patients. Pharmaceutical companies are aware that in most cases, even extraordinary prices will be paid by insurers and governments when the price of not treating is so devastating. Babies with serious conditions should not be used by pharmaceutical companies as pawns to blackmail insurers.”

“In the spring of 2014, Mallinckrodt was told by the existing supplier of the product that they would cease production in early 2016,” a spokesperson for the company told The Street’s Real Money. “Faced with a product that was losing money and the need to find a new supplier, Mallinckrodt had a choice to make — take Synacthen off the market or invest in its future.”

Mallinckrodt acquired pharma company Questcor in 2014, and Synacthen Depot was one of the products in the portfolio, the company said in a statement to CBC. It increased the price because of a change of manufacturing, but the company wouldn’t elaborate on why the change in manufacturing justifies the significant price increase.

This isn’t the first time a pharmaceutical company has been scrutinized for boosting the cost of a life-saving drug. In September Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, was slammed after his company bought Daraprim and raised the cost of the medication a staggering 5,000 percent. Daraprim is used to treat malaria and people with compromised immune systems, like AIDS patients and certain cancer patients, according to The New York Times.

For more information about infantile spasms, please visit the Epilepsy Foundation’s website.

Lead image via ThinkStock

Originally published: November 18, 2015
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