Letter Submitted to USA Today re Editorial Board Opinion on Generic Biologic Medications

To The Editors:
Re: Our view on generic medications: Drugmakers seek excessive monopolies on ‘biologics’ (USA Today Editorial Board, August 12, 2009)

I couldn’t agree more that healthcare reform proposals currently give Big Pharma and Biotech “excessive” 12-year marketing monopolies for over-priced biologic pharmaceuticals that will allow drugmakers to price gouge American patients for far too long.

Even more worrisome, the plans will enable manufacturers to make relatively cheap and easy tweaks to old biologics and gain an additional 12 years of monopoly protection. This will further delay price-lowering generic competition for biologics like Roche-Genentech’s $185,000 per year blockbuster cancer treatment Avastin. These simple changes include creating a once-a-day pill where the original was a thrice-a-day product, or replacing a shot with an inhalant or pill.

While these tweaks might offer benefits, their cost will often be only a small fraction of what companies spend developing a new product. Pharma does not need the lure of additional monopolies to make minor changes.

The bottom line is that in most cases this approach will offer only the illusion of generic competition and will torpedo the objective of healthcare cost containment. That’s hardly smart. And it’s definitely not fair to American consumers, insurers and taxpayers.

We must demand that Congress and President Obama eliminate this unjustified windfall for Big Pharma.

Sarah Rimmington
Attorney, Essential Action
Washington, DC