Patients for Affordable Drugs is a recently formed nonprofit, but it is already making a substantial impact on the debate around drug prices. The group was founded in early 2017 by David Mitchell, who has 40 years of experience working on health care and public health policy, and is a patient with an incurable but treatable blood cancer called multiple myeloma. Recently the group launched a campaign criticizing the drug company Novartis for unfairly pricing its new cancer drug, CAR-T. They urge Novartis to fairly price the drug so that Americans can access it without hardship.
A bit of background: CAR-T cell therapy involving extracting cells from a patient’s blood. The cells are genetically modified to attack the cancer, expanded in number, and infused back into the patient. They then multiply exponentially and go hunting from white blood cells that can give rise to diseases. Novartis did not develop CAR-T or contribute significant resources to it. Instead, American taxpayers spend over $200 million on the science behind this cure, starting back in 1993. This is a common state of affairs; many new drugs and treatments are developed with federal help. Only in 2012, two decades after the research began, did Novartis pay $20 million for the exclusive rights to CAR-T.
In light of these facts, Mr. Mitchell is urging Novartis to price the CAR-T drug fairly so that Americans can afford it. The FDA advisory committee recently voted to recommend approval of this therapy, and it has great potential to help individuals with cancer. But all this promise will mean nothing if patients can’t afford the treatment. Mitchell also requested a meeting with the CEO of Novartis, Joseph Jimenez, to talk about pricing approaches.
Drug companies should be able to benefit from the innovation and research they conduct. But all too often companies simply buy the rights to badly needed medicines and then raise the prices to levels that most people cannot afford. Patients then have to choose between paying for the drugs they need to stay alive or paying for their groceries, housing, or school. The federal government should ensure that patients have access to affordable drugs, and companies should commit to ensuring that their products are widely available at reasonable prices.
We welcome this campaign and urge Novartis to do the right and responsible thing by fairly pricing CAR-T.