Prices of MS Medications Keep Soaring


Hopes that generic glatiramer acetate would help stem drug costs were dashed in part because of a strategy that pharmaceutical companies often employ to stay one step ahead, Hartung noted.

Prior to the release of the generic version, Copaxone manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals created a slightly different formulation of its branded drug and put it on the market, Hartung said.

The new formulation came in a 40-milligram (mg) dose, as opposed to the earlier 20-mg dose that would be used by the generic version. This made the new Copaxone formula not interchangeable with the generic, he explained.

Between early 2014 and mid-2015, nearly half of Teva’s market share was moved to the new 40-mg version, the researchers said.

“This is a tried-and-true strategy that branded drug companies will use to extend their franchise,” Hartung said. “They’ll release a slightly modified formulation or they’ll tweak the molecule a little bit so it’s virtually the same but technically not the same, so it can’t be substituted.”

It also didn’t help that the generic drug launched at a price only 15% less expensive than the brand-name drug at the 20-mg dose and about the same price as the new 40-mg version, Hartung added.

As a result, “about two-thirds of glatiramer was still dispensed as the branded product at the end of 2017, which shows that even though there was a generic available, it didn’t really penetrate the market very much,” he said.

“That’s probably one of the reasons why the availability of this generic had pretty minimal effects on the upward trajectory of the prices for the other drugs in the class,” Hartung concluded.

Teva Pharmaceuticals did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the industry group PhRMA.

A second company introduced its own generic version of glatiramer acetate in October 2017 at an even lower price, making it the cheapest MS drug on the market, Hartung said.

Increased competition like this has long been hoped to curtail drug price increases, but it hasn’t shaken out that way, Talente said.

“As more medications come to market, we see prices for almost all of the medications continue to increase,” she noted. “Even with the introduction of the generics, we have not seen an overall shift in the impact on people with MS.”

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