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US drugmaker Pfizer lifts price of Viagra and 100 other products

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US drugmaker Pfizer lifts price of Viagra and 100 other products

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Pharmaceuticals sector

US drugmaker Pfizer lifts price of Viagra and 100 other products

Increase contradicts Trump’s claims and threatens to fuel pharma backlash

The soaring cost of medicines in the US has become a big issue for President Trump, who has accused the pharma industry of ‘getting away with murder’ © Bloomberg

Pfizer has raised the prices of 100 products just weeks after US President Donald Trump claimed the pharmaceuticals industry was about to implement “massive” voluntary reductions.

In a move that threatens to fuel the backlash over the soaring cost of medicines in the US, Pfizer increased the price of some of its best-known drugs, including Viagra, the erectile dysfunction treatment, according to figures seen by the Financial Times. 

The increases were effective as of July 1 and in most cases were more than 9 per cent — well above the rate of inflation in the US, which is running at about 2 per cent. 

In remarks on May 30, Mr Trump said that “some of the big drug chains in two weeks [are] going to announce … voluntary massive drops in prices”. No such announcements have since transpired, and it remains unclear why Mr Trump — who campaigned on lowering drug prices — predicted imminent decreases.

Pfizer, the largest standalone drugmaker in the US, did decrease the prices of five products by between 16 per cent and 44 per cent, according to the figures. 

“The latest increases signal that it is ‘business as usual’ rather than the voluntary concessions that Trump indicated were coming,” said Michael Rea, chief executive of Rx Savings Solutions, which makes software that helps employers and health insurers lower the amount they spend on prescription drugs. 

The soaring cost of medicines in the US in recent years has sparked a public outcry and has become a big issue for Mr Trump, who last year accused the pharmaceutical industry of “getting away with murder”. 

It is the second time this year that Pfizer has hoisted the prices of many of its medicines. When accounting for a series of increases implemented in January, the price of some drugs has risen by almost 20 per cent in 2018.

The average wholesale price of a 100mg Viagra pill has gone from $73.85 at the start of this year to $88.45 as of July 1, an increase of 19.8 per cent. 

Although the erectile dysfunction treatment has faced competition from cheaper generic alternatives since December, some patients and doctors still prefer the Pfizer version. The company’s website advises people to “ask for the original brand — the little blue pill” when visiting their physician. 

Chantix, a drug that helps people quit smoking, has gone up 17 per cent this year, while a bottle of Xalatan eyedrops for glaucoma went from $89.38 to $107.05. 

$88.45

Average wholesale price of a 100mg Viagra pill as of July 1 — at the start of the year it was $73.85 — an increase of 19.8%

Pfizer said the list price did not reflect what most patients or insurance companies paid, insisting that the net price increase — which accounts for discounts and rebates — was expected to be in the “low single digits”. 

“The list price remains unchanged for the majority of our medicines,” the company said in a statement. “We are modifying prices for 10 per cent of our medicines, including some instances where we’re decreasing the price.”

Pfizer said it recognised that rising “out-of-pocket” charges for patients were affecting the affordability of medicines, and said it was trying to ensure the discounts negotiated by insurers were passed on to patients. It said it had a range of financial assistance programmes for patients who struggled to afford their medicines. 

The practice of increasing prices in the US twice a year — by 10 per cent in January and the same again in the summer — used to be commonplace in the pharmaceuticals industry. 

However, in response to greater political scrutiny of the industry, many large companies now raise prices just once a year, in January, normally by high single digits, meaning that annual inflation is held at less than 10 per cent. 

Several other drugmakers also raised the prices of their medicines on July 1, according to the figures seen by the FT, including Acella Pharmaceuticals, which made increases on 20 of its products. 

Acorda Therapeutics increased the price of its multiple sclerosis drug Ampyra by 9.5 per cent to $53.85 per tablet, taking a bottle of 60 to more than $3,000. Intercept raised its liver drug Ocaliva by 7 per cent to $263.48 per pill or nearly $8,000 for a pack of 30. 

Acella, Acorda and Intercept did not respond to requests for comment.

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