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‘Fortress of patents’ thwarts competitors, keeps medication costs high

Patents make big profits for Big PharmaDrug-makers have found all kinds of ways to work the system to keep the costs of some medications sky-high, leaving consumers to shell out astronomical sums.

The drug Remlevid to treat multiple myeloma, for example, was just more than $6,000 for a month’s supply of 21 capsules in 2006. Today it’s $16,691. The average monthly copay has jumped from $115 to $690 in just the past year.

How can the cost shoot so high so fast? And for a drug that’s been around more than a decade?

No competition.

Remlevid, by Celgene Corp., has been around for years. And through a layering of perfectly legal maneuvers, Celgene has managed to extend its exclusive market rights for Remlevid, according to a report by National Public Radio.

Exclusive rights for 14 years.

And here’s why it pays off: That one drug’s $8 billion in profits made up more than half – 63 percent – of Celgene’s revenue in 2017, according to NPR.

The tactics aren’t new, and many drug companies use them. They include getting multiple patents on drug and distribution systems, limiting generic competitors’ access to samples, and cutting deals for limited access of other generics.

The FDA is exploring how it can limit how the amount of time companies can keep competition at bay.

Meantime, consumers are left to pay high prices for drugs they need but increasingly can’t afford.

How have high drug prices affected you? Have you seen the cost of your medications rise? Share your story with Voices.