“The price set [for this medication] is completely unjustified,” said Ernst Kuipers, Erasmus MC’s Chairman of the Board, in the Nieuwsuur news show on Wednesday evening. “We produced this medicine for a long time. As a result, we know exactly how much it cost to develop and produce this drug. The price must be reduced and can be reduced.” Kuipers says that Erasmus MC was naive when it developed and marketed the drug. “We developed it back in the 1980s. We had no idea at the time of how prices were set for these types of medicines.” Erasmus MC will continue to produce the drug for its own patients.

The price charged for lutetium octreotate, a pharmaceutical agent used for the treatment of rare types of cancer, has recently been raised nearly six-fold. The medication was developed at Erasmus MC and has been used to treat neuroendocrine tumours since 2000. A reconstruction performed by Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde [the Dutch Journal of Medicine] shows that Novartis, the pharmaceutical company that acquired the rights to the drug, charges €23,000 for each intravenous infusion, whereas the academic medical centre charged €4,000 for each intravenous infusion.

medicijnmonopolies-Esther-Dijkstra

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Successful medicine

The lutetium octreotate drug was developed at Erasmus MC in the 1980s and 1990s under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Eric Krenning. Lutetium octreotate is used to treat slow-growing neuroendocrine tumours.

In association with several other doctors, Krenning established a pharmaceutical start-up to further develop the medication. In 2010 this start-up was sold to AAA, a French pharmaceutical company. The medication has proved quite successful in recent years. It is at least five times more effective at combating certain types of cancer than regular cancer drugs, extending the average patient’s life by four to six years.

Monopoly

The drug was assigned orphan status over a year ago, meaning it is considered a pharmaceutical agent that was developed specifically to treat a rare medical condition. Once a drug has been assigned orphan status, it is guaranteed a seven-year monopoly in the United States and a ten-year monopoly in the European Union. Soon after the drug was declared an orphan drug, Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis acquired AAA for €3.3 billion. Novartis now owns the rights to a protected orphan drug that has marketing authorisation for both the European and American markets. And now, suddenly, Novartis has raised the price for lutetium octreotate nearly six-fold.

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