The U.S. President Donald Trump has long been pointing his finger at the EU pharma markets, saying that Americans, in contrast, pay a great deal too much for the most popular prescription drugs. The President’s ambitious proposal suggests binding the prices for some Medicare drugs to the lowest prices for those same drugs in other countries. In October 2018, Trump’s administration already expressed its willingness to review the costs of physician-prescribed therapies across the United States and bring them into line with what is usually charged for similar therapies in other developed countries.
While the President’s plans to reduce the prices for most essential medicines have understandably gained support from the general public, they have also aroused quite a lot of concern among healthcare providers. Many health industry experts believe that such initiatives, if ever approved, might have some repercussions for people in need of more high-profile personalized therapies. It is feared that pharmaceutical companies, when forced to charge less for their medicines, will be disinterested in further investing in the development of targeted, patient-specific treatments designed to address the cause of a disease rather than just its symptoms.
Furthermore, if governmental control over drug prices were introduced, it would impede the research and development of new medicines that treat rare illnesses affecting smaller groups of patients. Developing such drugs often costs pharma companies billions, and given their limited use, the suggested price capping will lead to drug manufacturers’ refusing to pour money into something they won’t profit from eventually.
Pharmaceutical companies assert the right to determine their own prices for their drugs, claiming that even though many of the targeted medicines that they design for the cure of rare diseases like SMA or IRD are expensive, they ultimately help patients to save millions on the future medical care and hospitalization costs.
One clear example of such cost-effectiveness is Zolgensma, which is a highly potent gene replacement therapy approved by the FDA in spring 2019 for children under the age of two who suffer from a crippling neuromuscular disease called spinal muscular atrophy. Currently, the drug comes at the price of over $2.1 million, and its one-time dose is enough to permanently cure the terrifying disease that would otherwise slowly destroy a sick child’s muscular nerves, cause them colossal physical suffering, and exhaust the family’s budget of more than $5 million over a period of 10 years.
Some studies indicate that there are over 300 cell-based medications, which are currently being developed and tested for the use against rare and life-threatening diseases. They are expected to produce a lifelong curative effect or at least be able to sustainably reverse the symptoms of these diseases, allowing patients to lead a normal life. However, all these and other medical breakthroughs risk never seeing the light of day if those who are in charge of making health care decisions agree to the one-size-fits-all approach to drug pricing suggested by the President.
There is yet another downside to the cost-cutting measures suggested by Donald Trump and his administration. Thus, when prescribing physicians are limited in their choice of governmentally approved medicines for a particular disease, they are likely to resort to older, less effective treatment protocols that do not take into consideration the patient’s individual treatment needs and their specific characteristics.
The global pharma’s primary focus of attention today is on developing innovative, tailored therapies that would be recommended to patients after careful consideration of their specific treatment needs. Health care experts believe that such individualized medicine, in the long run, will result in more savings for the country’s budget, improved patient care, and a more effective public health system.