If you suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS), unless you have lived in a cave since 1993 when Betaseron, the first FDA approved disease modifying drug (DMD) came on the market, you are well aware that the cost of these drugs is astronomical. It seems morally wrong to put a outrageous price tag on a substance–capable of improving quality of life for those who suffer from this disease–only because people are desperate to get it.
Drug companies, when asked to defend their pricing strategies, quickly point out that the cost of research and development (R&D) is exorbitant, and only a small percentage of drugs ever win FDA approval after decades-long trials. If a drug wins that distinction it must pay for not only its own R&D costs, but for those that failed as well.
But there's much more that factors into how these drugs are priced.
I had the honor of speaking with one of the country's foremost experts on the topic of drug pricing, Dr. Kenneth Kaitin, a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Cambridge, Mass. We spoke for nearly thirty minutes on the topic of drug prices, how they are achieved, and the emerging power of social media to effect change.
He spoke to me about value, competition, patent life, and more. But he also spoke at great length about how patient groups, physician groups, and individuals are increasingly effecting change, enabled by the power of social media.
The interview was part of the research I did for the two part series of articles I wrote for Healthline.com:
Part 1: Should Multiple Sclerosis Drugs Cost $62,000 per Year?
Part 2: Voices For Change: How You Can Impact MS Drug Pricing
In short, the pharmaceutical industry is one that operates like any other. They depend on their cash cows–in this case the MS drugs–to be the stable, revenue-producing portion of their portfolio that allows them to invest in riskier, cutting-edge research that often yields astounding breakthroughs in medicine. Like it or not, it's the system we have.
To be certain, all drug companies now offer generous patient assistance programs, so the majority of those who want them have access to the DMDs.
If you need to be on a DMD but think they are cost prohibitive, be sure to ask your neurologist about the programs available to assist in covering the cost.
After writing the series I felt uplifted, empowered, and motivated to
use my online presence to try and inspire others. There are so many
people suffering from MS out there who are sitting at home feeling
powerless, frustrated and desperate about their situation. They feel
hopeless to change the course of their disease, or they can't afford
health care to try.
In this age of social media, however, activism is only a keyboard away. If you want to make a difference, start by joining the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, encourage those at a local support group to do the same. Get involved in speaking out. Blog your hopes and dreams for the future of healthcare, send your congressperson or senator an email about your situation and your desire for affordable medicines and healthcare. Take a stance and use your voice.
Every little bit helps. I'm going to use my voice to educate others on personal empowerment and how to effect change.
Now go do something positive and never forget: One person CAN make a difference.