If you are familiar with the fraudulent practices of the pharmaceutical industry, then you know how much power some of these companies have. Cancer drugs are a multi-billion dollar business. In the past, we have seen Big Pharma use the power of the state to grant themselves monopolies on drugs to control the market. We have also seen outrageous price rises in many useful and necessary drugs. In light of this information, the following story should come as no great shock.
After getting its hands on leaked internal documents, including emails and presentations, The London Times recently revealed that one of the world’s leading drug companies created artificial shortages and threatened to destroy supplies of life-saving cancer drugs to drive up prices in Europe.
South African company Aspen Pharmacare, whose European headquarter is based in Dublin, wanted to impose a rise of up to 4,000 percent after purchasing the portfolio of cancer drugs from the British firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for more than £270 million (or nearly $350 million) in 2009.
After they had bought the rights to five cancer medicines, they started to drive up the price. Since the patent had long expired on drugs that Aspen bought, and there was no competition from other manufacturers, Aspen had free reign. In England and Wales, they exploited a loophole that enables a company to impose rises if an existing brand name is dropped. In 2013, the company raised the cost of the leukemia drug busulfan from £5.20 ($6.66) to £65.22 ($83.59), while the price of the blood cancer medicine chlorambucil jumped from £8.36 ($10.72) per pack to £40.51 ($51.92).
Since 2012, Aspen Pharmacare actively tried to impose higher prices on its cancer drugs throughout Europe. The leaked cache documents cited by The Times showed that employees called for “celebrations” over price hikes of cancer drugs.
“We’ve signed new reimbursement and price agreement successfully: Price increases are basically on line with European target prices (Leukeran, a bit higher!)… Let’s celebrate!” an Aspen employee wrote in one of the emails.
Aggressive approach to negotiating with European authorities
In October 2013 Aspen threatened to stop supplying medicines if Italian authorities did not agree to price rises of up to 2,100 percent. Temporary drug shortages were orchestrated to increase pressure.
At one point, a pharmacist wrote to Aspen and its Italian distributor to complain that due to a deliberately small supply of cancer medicine he had to choose which of sick two children was to receive the single package of medicine he had left.
And Italy was not the only country suffering from the unscrupulous business practices of the firm. Several other countries including Belgium, Germany, and Greece reported significant shortages of cancer medicine at about the same time.
In 2014 several staff members at Aspen Pharmacare systematically plotted to destroy stocks of life-saving cancer drugs during a price dispute with the health service in Spain. At some point, they stopped the direct supply of five drugs, leaving patients reliant on foreign packs of expensive medicine.
When an employee at Aspen’s headquarters asked what he should do with existing Spanish packages of the medicine, a senior executive replied that they could not be sold due to a price dispute, adding that donating or destroying the entire stock were the only options.
In yet another email from the company, employees discussed whether they would make more money if they sold cancer drugs destined for Italy in Spain, even though that would mean putting Italy out of stock. (Related: Read more about the Big Pharma drug cartels at DrugCartels.news.)
These internal emails showed corruption on a whole new level. To increase the profits, Aspen was plotting to destroy supplies of medicines to create temporary shortages to increase pressure and eventually get what they wanted. Though the emails provide clear evidence of their inhumane practices of putting profits before people. Aspen did not address questions about the destruction of cancer drugs.
In the company’s defense, Dennis Dencher, chief executive of Aspen Pharma Europe, said the price rises were “at levels appropriate to promote long-term sustainable supply to patients” and claimed they had been increased from “a very low and unsustainable base.”
By Amy Goodrich