By Henry Ehrlich
This website has covered the progress of dupilumab, a monoclonal antibody to treat eczema, since before it had a brand name. The first sighting was in a presentation by Dr. Emma Guttman-Yassky of Mount Sinai. The before and after pictures, ideal accompaniment for a chicken dinner at the Harvard Club, were dramatic. Before looked like second and third degree burns. After looked bathing-suit worthy. Apart from this miracle drug efficacy, the other subject was the retail cost of the market version “Dupixent”. At $38,000, the price tag was so high that Regeneron’s CEO Leonard Schleifer anticipated that insurance companies might reject coverage and become an issue so he created a hashtag #deniedRX that itchy patients could use to share stories of being shot down. Presumably there would be a groundswell of pressure on the insurers.
I learned about this in a biotech podcast produced by STAT, an excellent medical website, called The Readout Loud (highly recommended for anyone interested in the business of pharmaceuticals), and I looked it up. I learned it’s not as easy for a big company to go viral as it is for the typical no-talent reality TV star. It only collected 13 Tweets, the last of which was in March this year, and several of those were about scandals that bore no relation to the drug.
Who knows? Maybe Schliefer had visions of a cause celebre on the order of Mylan and EpiPen. But it’s one thing to ratchet an indispensable product up to scandalous prices over a period of years—dependent patients will be outraged–and another to start out scandalously priced and then light a match, hoping the outrage would burst out. In fact, as the folks at STAT pointed out, this stunt was generated to boost earnings. And it didn’t work; as of this past spring, when both Regeneron and its partner Sanofi lost stock market value based on disappointing Dupixent sales.
Good drug. Iffy business model.
Graphic by eczemaliving.com