Meds and you

Updated 30 January 2018

7 of the most expensive medical treatments in the world

The ever-increasing prices of specialised treatments like gene-targeting therapies are raising concerns about the affordability of medicines and healthcare all over the world.

A recent Health24 article reports how Luxturna, a first-of-its kind genetic treatment for blindness, will cost $850 000 (more than R10 million) per patient.

For the vast majority of people this treatment is so expensive that they could not afford it – even if they sold everything they own.

Backlash against medicine prices

This and other similarly expensive gene-targeting therapies are raising concerns about the affordability of medical care all over the world.

Although drug prices are regulated in South Africa, they are not in the US which means drug manufacturers can set the price as high as they wish. 

The standard explanation for exorbitant drug prices is the high cost of developing a drug, as well as the fact that so many drugs fail during trials and must be abandoned.

Some companies have, however, begun to offer more detailed reasoning as the backlash against excessive drug prices is gaining momentum.

The International Federation of Health Plans, in its 2015 Comparative Price Report, which aims to highlight the variation in healthcare prices around the world, indicates that medicine prices in the US (and UK) are considerably higher than anywhere else.

Apart from Luxturna, here are seven of the most outrageous examples of high medicine and medicine-related prices in the world:

1. Glybera

Glybera was first approved in October 2012 for familial lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD), a rare genetic disorder that disrupts the normal breakdown of fats in the body. 

This drug was never approved in the US, but would have cost more than $1.2 million (±R14.7 million) per year. It will not be marketed any further in Europe by drugmaker uniQure as it has become evident that it will be a commercial failure. 

2. Soliris

Soliris costs patients up to $700 000 a year (±R8.58 million). The drug is used to treat paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, which affects only 8 000 people in the world.

The disease destroys red blood cells, causing patients to suffer from infections, anaemia and blood clots.

3. Elaprase

Elaprase is a treatment for Hunter syndrome, a rare condition that affects only 500 people in the US. The disease is also known as Mucopolysaccharidosis type II and occurs almost exclusively in males. It is a progressively debilitating disorder that inhibits brain function and physical development.

Elaprase costs more than $500 000 (±R6.13 million) per year.

4. Naglazyme

Naglazyme costs more than $365 000 (±R4.5 million) and is used to treat Maroteaux-Lamy Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder involving the accumulation of complex carbohydrates called glycosaminoglycans in the body.

Common symptoms can include coarse facial features, corneal clouding, joint abnormalities, various skeletal malformations, an abnormally enlarged liver and/or spleen, and hearing loss. Cardiac disease and restrictive pulmonary disease can also occur.

5. Cinryze

Cinryze is a treatment for angioedema, which affects only one in 50 000 people in America. It costs around $350 000 (±R4.3 million) a year.

Angioedema is often triggered by an allergic reaction, which leads to chemicals being released into the body, causing swelling of the skin. The condition can also be caused by some medications, a genetic fault or unknown triggers.

Exponential price increases

And just as bad as high retail prices are unjustified price increases:

6. EpiPens

In August 2016 the cost of a two-pack of EpiPens (an adrenaline injection for allergy sufferers) jumped to $600 (±R7 300), compared to $90 (±R1 100) a decade earlier.

7. Daraprim

In 2015 the price of Daraprim, which is used by Aids and transplant patients, soared from $13.50 (±R164) per pill to $750 (±R9 120), which sparked a justified outrage. 

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