Opinion: Pricing info with new drug approvals: Time for transparency
For years Congress has raised concerns with the way some drugmakers pay to delay generic versions of their branded blockbusters, as well as other patent and evergreening techniques to add to their sales of older products.
These games and other obfuscation tactics have long extended to drug pricing too. Finding information on the price of a new drug, or even better, what someone will actually have to pay out of pocket for that new drug (which is usually not the same as the WAC or list price that’s announced), can be exceedingly difficult to find or understand. Sometimes companies will announce the list price for a new drug, but other times that announcement will come later, or be buried in an SEC filing, or only discoverable publicly in a government database years later.
Take, for example, the recent FDA approval of Viatris’ new interchangeable biosimilar Semglee, which theoretically will serve as much-needed competition in an always expensive insulin market.
The price for this interchangeable Semglee was supposed to come down to about $100, according to an Axios report, which, if true, would be almost one-third the price of its reference product, Sanofi’s blockbuster Lantus.
However, a Viatris spokesperson told me, and again later confirmed, that the actual price of the interchangeable version of Semglee has not been released yet, and won’t be released until the launch date.
Bob Herman, the author of the Axios report, passed along an email in which the same Viatris spokesperson confirmed, “That’s right regarding pricing.”
But the same spokesperson explained to me: “Axios referenced current pricing information in their reporting,” and the spokesperson pointed to a press release from August 2020, noting Semglee’s WAC of about $150 per package of five 3ml pens and $98.65 per 10ml vial, which it said is the lowest WAC for any long-acting insulin glargine on the market. The list price of Semglee pen is equivalent to the Lantus launch price in 2007, and the Semglee vial is listed at Lantus’s 2010 pricing.
But again, the spokesperson did not say if this will or won’t be the price of the new interchangeable Semglee, but said instead, “We are not sharing pricing information of the interchangeable biosimilar Semglee at this time. Further information will be provided at product launch.”
So why didn’t Viatris correct the Axios report, which was cited widely?
Viatris told Endpoints: “We did not feel the need to correct the Axios piece because the reporter had asked what the price was for the existing, currently marketed Semglee product.”
The interchangeable version of Semglee may end up being more expensive than that currently marketed biosimilar, which launched last year, so the $100 generic insulin headline offered good press for the firm.
Buried beneath this one example are hundreds of others where the price of a new drug is only later, or sometimes never, mentioned publicly. More sunshine into these prices would be welcome news for many consumers who continue to find out how much their drugs cost when they get to the pharmacy counter. This lack of transparency situation can be even worse in the case of physician-administered drugs.
As Congress attempts to address drug pricing, it would be welcome news if there was a requirement that companies disclose the price of their new drugs alongside any new approvals.
As high launch prices, particularly in oncology, become the new normal, it’s important that the public understands early on, at the very least, what the list prices for those new drugs are.