In a conference call that so stunned a Credit Suisse analyst he was left literally at a loss for words, Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALXN) on Monday announced that the annual average wholesale price in the U.S. for Soliris, its newly approved drug to treat the rare disease Paroxsymal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria [PNH], would be $389,000.
Leonard Bell, Alexion’s CEO, was quick to defend the cost of the drug – interrupting another Alexion executive who started discussing acceptable cost-effectiveness ratios by referencing the high cost of other therapies for so-called ultra-orphan diseases, such as Pompe [Myozyme, Genzyme (GENZ)] and Hunter (Elaprase, Shire HGT). But the costs he cited for these drugs (”over $400,000″ and “over $800,000″ annually) appear to be inflated figures, even when considering weight adjustments for adult patients. Generally speaking, the top end cost for drugs that target around 10,000 patients globally is under $300k a year. So Alexion seems to be exploring new price territory here.
This story is sure to be fodder for the WSJ (who more than once roasted Genzyme for its pricing) and, more importantly, for a newly Democratic Congress with drug costs on its mind.
But patients apparently need not worry about the high cost of Soliris. Alexion, as they reiterated at least five times on the call by my count, has a goal "that every patient who can benefit from Soliris will have access to Soliris." Not the snazziest marketing message, but at least it’s reassuring to patients. Isn’t it?
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