Humira is the best-selling prescription drug in the world. You may have seen the commercials.
Because of Humira, a woman with rheumatoid arthritis can wash her puppy in the bathtub, another with colitis can stroll happily through a fair packed with food vendors, while a third suffering from psoriasis can go to the gym without hiding her neck.
But they probably wouldn’t all look so relieved if they saw the bill. The price of Humira, an anti-inflammatory drug dispensed in an injectable pen, has risen from about $19,000 a year in 2012, to more than $38,000 today, per patient, after rebates, according to SSR Health, a research firm. That’s an increase of 100 percent.
Pharma bosses probably miss Martin Shkreli, the reigning villain of the industry. If you’ll recall, Mr. Shkreli, as chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, acquired Daraprim, a drug used to fight infections in AIDS patients, and then raised the price overnight to $750 a pill from $13.50. He also trolled critics and spent $2 million on a one-of-a-kind Wu Tang Clan album, before his conviction on three securities fraud charges last year.
For a time, Mr. Shkreli’s antics, along with the soaring price of EpiPens, sold by Mylan, deflected attention from the rest of the industry. A more typical play for drug companies — the Humira play — is to start at a high price and keep raising it ever higher, but incrementally.
“What they have done with Humira is just as unfair, just as morally wrong, but they did it over five years,” said Ben Wakana, a former Obama administration spokesman who became executive director of Patients for Affordable Drugs, an advocacy group, because his younger brother couldn’t afford Humira without the financial support of their parents.
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“People are skipping doses, people are rationing, people are going into bankruptcy because of this drug,” he said in an interview, arguing that Humira is both more expensive per dose and has a far higher volume than Daraprim.