You are probably familiar with the patent length of new drugs but in case you are not, it is 20 years. What happens when the patent expires? You think you know the answer since you see so many generics and most medical providers will only pay for generics. Even if brand name medications are covered, chances are you are out of pocket with a bigger deductible. This is what you find–particularly for older medicines–but not for those that are not so old. Why not? I hope you are sitting… if not, take a seat please!
Do you read The Economist? If not, you should. Lately, toward the end of the magazine, there are several science sections from which you can learn the latest of what is truly the driving force behind our scientific and medical status. I found the link to the article I am about to discuss, so feel free to read it. In case you have the have the paper edition; it is on page 72 in the June 21st 2014 issue. This is an amazing and very shot one-page article.
The article sums up what happens to brand name drugs after the 20-year patent and exclusivity expires. I was shocked to read the choices these pharmaceuticals make and the most interesting part is that it is all legal. When I got my doctorate, because my field is medical experimenting on human volunteers, I had to spend a couple of years studying law, specifically human rights and everything relating to patents. In fact I have a rather fiery article poking fun of one particular case that happened in the 1970 where a doctor practiced experimenting without consent, made a ton of money by selling his unauthorized collection of blood from the patient and patented it, something that exists in nature–completely against all patent laws. Although I gave a link to the book, the title of my article is not visible: Patenting Lives. Chapter 5: Forfeited Consent: Body Parts in Eminent Domain.
This particular book is out of print now for the 3rd or 4th time since it is used as a text book but is available in Kindle–mind you it is still very expensive, so forget it. But I just wanted to show you that I am familiar with the subject and have the right to poke fun again; this time over the pharmaceutical companies who get away with murder and with the patent office yet again!
So here is what is happening in short: normally patent expires in 20 years, so this means the end of being the only company selling the drug. Using the patent information, other companies can identify precisely what is in the drug and re-create it as a generic, selling it for a fraction of the cost. This means the death of the brand name of course, something Big Pharma cannot allow to happen. So they have created some options for themselves that are “legal.” And I place quotes around the word “legal” because the law states that something can only be patented if it is genuinely something new both in design and function. If one of the two does not hold, the item cannot be patented.
Yet Big Pharma found a way around this and just before the patent of a drug would expire, they create another version of the same drug with modifying something (probably a non-essential additive) and market it again as new, apply for a patent and they get it! Yet the drug is essentially the same and it certainly has the exact same function else it could not be prescribed for the same illness. Thus we have a broken patent office system that does not see past its nose–or perhaps there is some political interest involved.
Another alternative is they buy off potential generic manufacturers trying to sell generic–meaning they pay other companies who would manufacture the generic in order to not manufacture and sell generic. Although this costs money, they still earn more money then if they had let the generic drugs come to the stores. According to The Economist, in 2012 alone there were 40 such deals that cost the Big Pharma “only” 3.5 Billion but of course they earned $8.1 Billion, so the payout was pocket change.
A third trick by Big Pharma is to nudge customers (doctors in this case) toward other drugs that behave similarly. I now understand why my mother’s doctor kept on switching her from her Simvastatin cholesterol drug that worked perfectly well, was generic, and saved her liver, to Lipitor all the time, which is not nearly as effective, destroys the liver, and costs a lot more. Every time we went for a refill, Lipitor was waiting for her and every time I had to fight the doctor to re-prescribe Simvastatin. Shame on that doctor!
In conclusion: keep your eyes and ears open! Do not let your doctor change your medications without good explanation and reason and without getting your consent! They must get your consent for every drug they give you. Changes behind your back indicate some kind of ugly monster you do not want to get involved with. As for the Big Pharma, the only way to get rid of them is by simply not getting sick. Do the best to your body to keep it fit and healthy and then who cares what they do?
Questions? Contact me.