Consumer groups, patient advocacy organizations, employers, health care providers, free market advocates, and others launched a coalition today in a new effort to lower drug prices by exposing how drug companies abuse our patent system to maintain their monopolies, stifle competition, and keep lower cost generic drugs from patients. The new Coalition Against Patent Abuse (CAPA) advocates for policies to stop the tactics drug companies use to extend their government-granted monopolies by years and even decades beyond what Congress intended.
In its launch event at the U.S. Capitol, a panel of experts spoke about the need to end patent abuse and possible reforms. The panelists were Professor Michael Carrier of Rutgers University, Adam Garber from U.S. PIRG, David Mitchell from Patients for Affordable Drugs NOW, and George Slover from Consumer Reports.
“The abuse of our nation’s patent system by pharmaceutical companies is keeping drug prices high, “ said Beau Phillips, Executive Director of CAPA. “A recent study found that 75% of all pharmaceutical patents between 2005 and 2015 were issued on old, previously patented medicines, not new drugs. The patent system is supposed to reward true innovations, not the creativity of drug companies’ legal departments.”
The event focused on rising drug prices and how patent abuse is a big contributor to this problem. When more affordable generic drugs enter the market, prices of drugs fall by up to 90%, and brand name drug companies are exploiting complex systems to bar generic drugs and keep their monopolies. And there are many anticompetitive practices, from fraudulent citizen petitions, to denial of samples to generic companies so they can’t enter the market, to rebates and bundling, to making slight changes to drugs in order to extend patents, to patent thickets where companies file patents on every state of a drug’s development. To give just one example: AbbVie filed two hundred and forty-seven patents on Humira in order to prevent generic versions of the drug from entering the market and to extend their patent exclusivity well beyond 2016 when its initial patent was set to expire. These new patents would extend its monopoly to 2034.
The participants noted that 80% of Americans think that Congress’s top priority should be lowering drug prices, and that the patent system for drugs is currently being abused to harm innovation. Generic drugs work just as well for patients and they cost significantly less, so this manipulation is harming people’s health and finances, discouraging research and development on new lifesaving medicines, and increasing health care costs.
David Mitchell from Patients for Affordable Drugs NOW spoke eloquently about how patients were being harmed by patent abuse. They have to choose between paying their rent and paying for their medicines, and skyrocketing drug costs are causing people to not fill prescriptions, or even cut their pills in half. “Drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them,” he said. “We strongly support patent reform to get more generics and biosimilars to market to lower the prices of prescription drugs.” He also pointed out that many drug companies have relied on price hikes instead of innovation to reap greater profits, and that stopping patent abuse would correct this state of affairs and promote research and development of new medicines!
The panel concluded with some suggested reforms. These solutions include the CREATES Act, which requires brand companies to provide samples so cheaper generic drugs can be developed, stronger enforcement mechanisms that make it more costly to abuse the system, stronger congressional oversight of the Patent Office, and more cases against bad actors.
Representative Frank Pallone, Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, made an appearance and gave a few brief remarks. He stated he was a big supporter of generic drugs as a way to lower drug prices and that “rising drug prices are the biggest health care issue that’s mentioned by our constituents.” He told the audience that lowering drug costs, ending patent abuse, and bringing more generics to market were all top priorities for House Democrats, and hopefully there could be a bipartisan agreement on the issue.
CAPA members include Consumer Action, U.S. PIRG, Citizen Outreach, Kaiser Permanente, Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing, Innovation Defense Fund, Institute for Liberty, Knowledge Ecology International, Lincoln Network, R Street Institute, the Association for Accessible Medicines, and the Society for Patient Centered Orthopedics. Its numbers are growing.
To learn more about CAPA, visit www.capanow.org.