Health

New Drug for Sick Kids Priced at $750,000 (!!!) per Year

Published On 02/01/2017 Published On 02/01/2017

No matter your religious or political affiliation, helping sick kids is one of those things everyone can get behind (unless you're a literal monster).

That must have been what pharmaceutical company Biogen was thinking when it developed SPINRAZA, the first drug to treat a rare spinal disorder called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).

The genetic disease affects people's muscle movement so severely, it inhibits their ability to breathe, swallow, or walk. In fact it's so life-threatening, most infants who are diagnosed with it won't make it to the age of 2. So thank God a drug company swooped in to create a miraculous, life-saving drug that will help treat such a severe disability. This is great news, right?

Except it will cost patients a whopping $750,000 (!!!) in the first year of treatment.

That's right, three-quarters of a million dollars to save your kid's life, and that's just for the first year. Luckily, the price drops after that -- to a mere $375,000 a year for subsequent years... because anything more would just be a selfish form of price gouging. 

The drug company argues the first year is so expensive because it requires six treatments, as if $125,000 per treatment is somehow justifiable. The medication was approved by the FDA in December, and praised by the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Cure SMA as the first and only approved treatment for SMA.

Lest you think the medication is just a tad overpriced, a spokesman for Biogen said the cost was "carefully considered" and "fairly in line with other therapies for rare orphan diseases," according to CBS News. Although the price could go down with insurance coverage, discounts, or rebates, it's still hardly in the realm of affordable. 

SPINRAZA's outrageous drug cost echoes a similar pattern that Turing Pharmaceuticals, formerly run by pharma bro and professional internet troll Martin Shkreli, made when it hiked the cost of the HIV drug DARAPRIM from $13.50 per tablet to $750. While Shkreli was at least honest about the price hike (he did so to make the drug profitable), Biogen says it has a support group that can financially and logistically help families who can't afford the cost of SMA treatment.  

We'll see if that happens.

High drug costs in the United States have received increasing scrutiny across the political spectrum, in part due to outrageous, seemingly arbitrary pricing schemes that leave patients with few options. After all, if you're a parent of a child with SMA, can you really choose between paying $750,000 and letting your child die?

There are certainly costs associated with research, development, and marketing new drugs, but a company that reported a net income of more than $1 BILLION in the third quarter of 2016 alone could probably figure out a way to knock down the price of a life-extending pharmaceutical -- preferably to something less than 13 times the median US household income

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Christina Stiehl is a Health and fitness staff writer for Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaStiehl.

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