When faced with competition, suddenly drug makers can produce generics
Like this morning when I saw that the Food and Drug Administration has approved a generic version of the children's asthma medication Pulmicort Respules.
Turns out, the good guys producing the generic are accusing of being the bad guys ripping off a patent. But then the good guys holding the patent suddenly discover that, yes, they can manufacture a generic and still make money. Which makes me think they were being meanies all along.
Pulmicort's not a medication we use a lot -- for general purposes, Flovent works fine for us, plus it's easier to administer. When Big Guy's really in the weeds like he was when wildfires hit last summer, though, we switch to Pulmicort for a few days.
Flovent also was less expensive, because my former insurance company covered it with a $25 name-brand co-pay. Pulmicort wasn't on the list bean-counters compile of medications they believe you need, so it cost $60. See? We already have managed health care -- managed by accountants, that is.
The full retail price of Pulmicort, though, runs around $300 a month. (Asthma: a perfectly manageable condition if you can afford to manage it.) So in my current temporary uninsured state, I cheered the arrival of a generic.
But it's way more complicated than that.
- The FDA gave approval for generic Pulmicort to Teva Pharmaceuticals, an Israeli company.
- AstraZeneca, the British company that holds the patent for the brand name, has sued Teva in U.S. District Court to block the generic.
- Hours after the FDA approval, AstraZeneca announced an agreement to produce its own generic, at the same time asking the judge in the patent case to block Teva's version.
- Teva has played "patent, patent who's got the patent" with other medications -- Allegra, Zithromax, and Singulair to name a few.
I do not condone ripping off intellectual property, if that is indeed what Teva is doing. The company's argument, loosely translated, appears to be "we're not using your recipe; we're just using similar ingredients."
In some cases, such as one involving Abbott's cholesterol drug Tricor, Teva has sued in turn, claiming the big manufacturers are violating antitrust laws and frustrating efforts to bring cheaper generics to market.
The legalities are for judges to decide. Let me just say this, though, and I hope the crowd that defends drug patents with the half life of plutonium is listening.
In the cases of Zithromax, Allergra and now Pulmicort the original patent-holders put generics into production quickly after Teva won approval for generics.
If AstraZeneca can produce generic Pulmicort today without causing the company to collapse, then it could have done so yesterday. Or last week. Or last year. And more parents would have been able to afford wheeze-free days for their kids.
Anyone else feel a gouging pain in the vicinity of the wallet?
Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.