In the midst of a ferocious respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) season that has seen pediatric hospitals swamped with severely ill children, the Council of Canadians is calling on the federal government and the Patented Medicines Price Review Board (PMPRB) to immediately launch an inquiry into the high price of Synagis, a drug that prevents RSV in at-risk infants.
Synagis, produced by the pharmaceutical company AbbVie, currently costs between $5,000 and $9,000 per child, per RSV season, and a mark-up of 27 times the cost of producing the medicine. This prohibitive expense has led public health authorities to restrict access to the treatment.
It’s still as expensive as it was when it first came onto the market 24 years ago. The children most impacted by lack of access to this essential medicine are Inuit infants living in the Arctic. These children tend to get much sicker with RSV, often experiencing associated bronchiolitis, pneumonia, and in some cases, even death. It is not uncommon for Inuit children to require medivac by helicopter from their home communities to better-equipped hospitals in the south.
The drug’s high price tag doesn’t reflect the cost of making it – it reflects the greed of the company that produces it
Medivacs to hospitals in the south are significantly more expensive than the cost of the drug, but more importantly, the Canadian government and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos have an obligation to investigate why AbbVie has been allowed to reap immense profits from a potentially life-saving medication. Provinces spend as much as $43 million per year on the drug, a price tag that means that only the most vulnerable (usually infants who are premature with underdeveloped lungs and/or hearts) get the treatment, excluding many infants – particularly Inuit babies – that are at risk of severe complications and even death.
While the PMPRB, an independent, quasi-judicial body, rarely uses its power to hold public hearings into the price of drugs and render decisions accordingly, it is not unprecedented. Earlier this year the PMPRB ordered Horizon Pharma to lower the cost of Procybsi, a life-saving drug that treats a genetic kidney disease in children.
There is currently unprecedented pressure on the health care system and it is critically important for any and all preventative treatments to be made available to those who need them. The federal government must investigate why Synagis costs so much and take action to rein in corporate greed and ensure access to this essential medicine.