“People should be able to access the drugs that work for them without going broke,” says Stacie Dusetzina. The Vanderbilt University health policy professor is watching the prescription drug market closely. United States hospital groups, business start-ups, and nonprofits are combating stubbornly high prices and persistent shortages.
Major pharmaceuticals companies—sometimes referred to as “Big Pharma”—tend to control drug costs and supply. As demand grows, so do prices and too often, shortages. That opens up an opportunity for groups that weren’t in the pharmaceuticals business to launch new ventures.
Medicine-making efforts for alternative suppliers are at different stages of production. But some companies have already shipped millions of doses. More medicine should be in hospitals and pharmacies within the next year. What do these groups have in common? All aim to sell their drugs at prices well below Big Pharma’s rates.
Civica Rx was started three years ago by a hospital group. The nonprofit now provides more than 50 generic (not brand-name) medicines in chronic shortage. The company has sold enough medication to treat 17 million people. At the start of 2020, Civica RX had 18 high-demand drugs in its supply chain. That lineup continues to increase as more needed medications can be identified and produced. By 2023, Civica Rx plans to offer inventory at 50,000 retail pharmacies.
Other companies are following suit. Premier Inc. and Phlow Corporation focus on making affordable medicines that are usually scarce. NP2, another nonprofit, produces cheaper cancer treatment drugs. EQRx makes brand-name cancer drugs to sell at “radically lower prices” than competitors. Even Walmart is on board the medicine-making machine, selling its own insulin, a hormone needed by diabetics. It costs less than half the brand-name equivalent.
U.S. patent law protects brand-name drugs for up to two decades. That lets prices spike. So most alternative drug makers target pricey off-patent medicines. Generics are usually cheap. But these days, fewer factories are making them, and drug shortages are common.
Life-saving medicines are a gift from the Great Physician. We can be thankful God allows humankind the knowledge to create disease-fighting medications.
Dr. Aaron Kesselheim is a Harvard Medical School researcher and price expert. He is optimistic that the new drug manufacturers will boost supply, lower prices, and in turn, improve quality of life for many people. And that good news may help patients rest more easily in the months and years to come.
Why? While capitalism promotes ingenuity and development of new products, monopolies and exclusive suppliers can sometimes promote greed that harms people in the end. Competition can serve the market well in many cases.
Actions have consequences. Click to see a bubble map that shows how one event (developing a new drug, for example) can lead to another.