We recently wrote about David Mitchell's new group, Patients for Affordable Drugs, and how they launched a campaign to urge the drug company Novartis to fairly price their new cancer therapy. Last week Mitchell met with several Novartis executives to discuss the price, and the Atlantic interviewed him about the meeting and its results. Novartis was polite but refused to heed his request.
Mitchell's group now has over 8,000 stories about patients having to pay outrageous prices for medicine, and it is building a community of patients that can advocate for lower drug prices. Novartis's new cancer therapy, Kymriah, is the first in a new class of therapies called CAR-T, where patients' own T cells are engineered to go after cancer. But the therapy will cost $475,000, a vast sum that is out of reach for all but the wealthiest patients. In response, Patients for Affordable Drugs urged Novartis to charge reasonable prices for this treatment.
Mitchell and Ben Wakana, the organization's executive director, sent a letter to Novartis and started a petition urging the company to charge a lower price. They met with the company executives and described the meeting as "a very polite meeting" and a "frank exchange." Mitchell noted that "we hoped to have a discussion. They just told us why it [the drug] had to be expensive." And the CAR-T treatment only came about because the National Institutes of Health invested over $200 million in science and research, which drug companies like Novartis then built on. Mitchell suggested that a fair price for the treatment would be much lower.
Companies have the right to earn honest profits, but not to engage in price gouging at the expense of their customers. Americans should have access to affordable medicines, and Novartis's behavior is inexcusable. Time and time again, drug companies have charged incredibly high prices for medicine and claimed they are only responsible to their shareholders. State and federal authorities must regulate these bad actors and this cancer treatment is available to those who need it most.