Epipens — self-injection sticks carried by people with deadly allergies, which have to be replaced twice a year — were developed by NASA at taxpayer expense, were patented by a government scientist who receives no royalties, require no marketing, and have gone from as little as $60 each to up to $606 in a few short years (during which time the company has switched to selling them exclusively in two-packs).
Mylan, who makes Epipens, and Pfizer, who markets them in the USA, have raised the prices monotonically since the middle of the last decade. Now, they're so expensive that many public ambulance services have stopped packing them, parents are sending their kids out with expired Epipens, and many are opting for the much-less-effective strategy of carrying a syringe full of epinephrine, and hoping they'll be able to inject themselves if they go into anaphylactic shock (one doctor who advises this compares having an Epipen to driving a Cadillac, something that not everyone can do. Other people drive to Canada, where Epipens are $94 for non-Canadians who pay a premium because they don't have insurance-backed prescriptions.
Mylan and Pfizer have no explanation for their pricing, apart from saying that it "reflect[s] the multiple, important product features and the value the product provides."
There are some competitors to EpiPen, but they haven't caught on. The primary competitor, Auvi-Q, sold by Sanofi, was taken off the market in October 2015 because some of the devices weren't dispensing the proper amount of medication.
A similar device, the Adrenaclick, was prescribed just a few hundred times last year, and a generic version was prescribed about 183,000 times, according to data from IMS Health. Since that device isn't considered by the Food and Drug Administration as therapeutically equivalent to the EpiPen, it can't be substituted when filling a prescription.
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries applied to market a generic EpiPen, but the application was rejected by the FDA earlier this year.
High price of EpiPens spurs consumers, EMTs to resort to syringes for allergic reactions [Ike Swetlitz/Stat]
Anaphylactic Sticker Shock
[Terry J Allen/In These Times]
(Image: EpiPen Auto Injector, Greg Friese, CC-BY)