Price of Teva's Generic Drug to Treat Wilson’s Disease Sparks Outrage


Wilson’s disease patients had been champing at the bit for Teva Pharmaceuticals, Inc.’ generic of Syprine that the company called a “lower-cost generic.” But after the drug launched this month patients discovered Teva’s generic isn’t really that much cheaper than Valeant Pharmaceuticals International’s branded drug.

When Teva announced the launch of its generic Hafrun Fridriksdottir, head of Global R&D at Teva, said its generic trientine hydrochloride capsules were included on a U.S. Food and Drug Administration list of off-patent, off-exclusivity branded drugs without approved generics. Trientine hydrochloride is used in the treatment of patients with Wilson’s disease who are intolerant of penicillamine.

Syprine is a medication that’s been around since the 1960s, but the price was dramatically increased by Valeant after it acquired the rights in 2015. The price jumped from $652 in 2010 to $21,267 for 100 pills of the branded treatment. When Teva announced its generic alternative the company said it would offer “a lower-cost generic alternative to patients.” In a statement earlier this month Brendan O’Grady, head of Teva’s North America Commercial division, said the launch of the generic version of Syprine “illustrates the company’s commitment to serving patient populations in need.” And then Teva finally revealed the price for its generic drug -- $18,275 for 100 pills, a cheaper alternative by less than $3,000.

The price of the generic drug has certainly caused anger among Wilson’s disease patients and activists who decry high drug costs. Globes, a business publication in Israel, noted that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a long-time critic of high-cost medications, expressed outrage on his Facebook page.

“We have a crisis in drug prices in this country, where pharmaceutical companies are able to charge whatever they want. We need a Congress and a president that is willing to stand up to the power of the pharmaceutical industry. The future of drug prices in America comes down to this: Do we have the guts to stand up to drug companies who are ripping us off?” Sanders wrote on his page, according to Globes.

Following multiple reports about the high price of the Syprine generic in publications such as the New York Times and the Jerusalem Post, Teva will certainly be bracing for a backlash of outrage that hit companies like Valeant, which jacked the price of multiple drugs it acquired, and Mylan and turned disgraced biotech executive Martin Shkreli into one of the most hated people in America.

Syprine and the Teva generic work by removing high copper levels from the body. Wilson’s disease prevents the body from removing excess copper on its own. If those copper levels are allowed to build up within the body it can cause organ damage. A rare disease, Wilson’s disease affects about one in 30,000 people. It’s estimated there are between 8,000 and 10,000 Wilson’s disease patients in the United States.

The negative press over the pricing of the drug comes at a time when Teva is battling eroding generic sales in the United States, as well as a massive debt of more than $30 billion. Shares of Teva have dipped less than 2 percent in early trading this morning.  

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