Panel talks effects of drug price hikes

Professors host discussion on pharmaceutical industry 

Jaclyn Duffin, former Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine, Timothy Hanna, assistant professor, and Glenn Monteith, vice-president of Innovative Medicines Canada talk drug prices.   

On Nov. 8, Queen’s University Allied for Essential Medicines (QUAEM) hosted a panel discussion about the causes and consequences of pharmaceutical drug price hikes.  

The guest speakers included Jaclyn Duffin, former Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine, Timothy Hanna, assistant professor in the Oncology Department, and Glenn Monteith, vice-president of Innovative Medicines Canada.  

Together, the three addressed how a decrease in affordable pharmaceutical drugs, combined with market incentives, affects Canadian health. 

When the panel began, Duffin told the audience about a local patient she had nearly a decade ago who suffered from breast cancer and was forced to quit chemotherapy due to extreme nausea. 

According to Duffin, the patient’s pharmacist prescribed her an outdated, less-effective drug due to a shortage of appropriate drugs in Kingston. Duffin’s patient couldn’t afford the more effective alternative. 

After researching the issue, Duffin found that standardized drug prices had been set so low, companies weren’t profiting—causing a decrease in generic drug production. 

Duffin and her research team began measuring the number of drug shortages occurring in Canada. After corresponding with Innovative Medicine of Canada and Monteith, they found there were 1,000 cases of drug shortages every year, with 1,200 different products affected. 

A lack of accurate drug shortage information means the public doesn’t know which drugs are scarce, Duffin said. 

Meanwhile, in his presentation, Hanna noted the importance of improving data on drug shortages to inform consumers. 

Hanna, a radiation oncologist, also said prices for pharmaceutical drugs can reach expensive levels. He stressed drugs used to treat cancer can often reach six figures, aggravating the long and complicated treatment process.  

With such a complicated process, Hanna suggested alternative ways of lowering the prices for cancer treatment. 

Hanna explained that by developing efficient methods of research, drug development, and collecting more health data, the price for innovative drugs could be lowered. He said Canada’s healthcare system should prioritize prescription drugs because of the impact insufficient insurance coverage can have on cancer patients. 

Since the public is willing to pay for increasingly expensive drugs, institutions are forced to negotiate with drug companies on prices and supplies, Hanna said.  

Contrastingly, Monteith discussed the issue from a corporate perspective, saying pharmaceutical companies can often prioritize results over quality. 

“[The pharmaceutical industry] is business as much as it is science,” he said.

Monteith used Vioxx, a pharmaceutical drug used to treat arthritis, as an example of as an example of the risks taken by pharmaceutical companies when producing a new drug. After it was popularized in 2004, almost 30,000 users came forward claiming cardiovascular difficulties.

“This [problem] creates all kinds of uncertainty in the market,” Monteith said. “It’s important for companies, researchers, and doctors to work closely together.”   

By the end of the panel, the three speakers had demonstrated how a decrease in generic drug production, a lack of health prioritization, and an excess of profit prioritization could all contribute to high drug prices and lower public health.

Corrections

November 21, 2018

This story was corrected after misattributing  almost 30,000 Vioxx users' claims of cariovascular difficulties as fatal, and clarfying Vioxx as a treatment, not a cure, for arthritis. 

The Journal regrets the error.

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