Physicians Highlight How Big Pharma Games the System to Boost Profits and Block Competition from More Affordable Alternatives

On Thursday, an op-ed in The Washington Post from William B. Feldman and Aaron S. Kesselheim, physicians at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and faculty members at Harvard Medical School, highlighted Big Pharma’s extensive patent abuse on brand name inhalers used to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The op-ed, titled “How the Makers of Inhalers Keep Prices So High,” examines several tactics the pharmaceutical industry uses to block competition around brand name inhaler products to boost profits and deny patients access to more affordable alternatives.

Citing a study from January in JAMA Network, the authors highlight that “between 2000 and 2021, manufacturers earned more than $178 billion of revenue on these products in the United States alone.” In addition, in 2021, seven of the top 50 highest grossing drugs in Medicare Part D were brand name inhalers. As the authors point out, given the pricing of some of these products, many patients may be forced to “skip doses or stop using their inhalers altogether.”

Feldman and Kesselheim then outline how the brand name drug manufacturers “have used the patent and regulatory system to keep generics off the market,” including through tactics like product hopping and patent thicketing.

“Of the $178 billion that manufacturers earned on inhalers in the United States from 2000 to 2021, about $111 billion of that total came after patents on their active ingredients had expired,” the authors explain. “The patent system was designed to promote innovation, not grant monopolies for small tweaks to devices containing decades-old drugs.”

Big Pharma’s abuse of the inhaler market is just one example of how brand name drug companies game the system to block competition from more affordable alternatives. Congress must hold Big Pharma accountable with market-based solutions to boost competition and crack down on the pharmaceutical industry’s egregious abuse of the patent system.

Read the full op-ed “How the Makers of Inhalers Keep Prices So High,” in The Washington Post HERE.

Read more on the cost of Big Pharma’s patent abuse HERE.

Read more on bipartisan, market-based solutions to hold Big Pharma accountable HERE.


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