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Sneak Prescription Drug Patent Extension in Appropriations Rider Would Increase Drug Prices for Seniors

Oct. 9, 1998

Sneak Prescription Drug Patent Extension in Appropriations Rider Would Increase Drug Prices for Seniors

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An 11th-hour attempt to gain patent extensions for Claritin and Relafen, two of the top-selling prescription drugs in the U.S., and five other drugs would cost millions for consumers, taxpayers and all other health care payers. Among the hardest hit would be seniors on fee-for-service Medicare who pay out-of-pocket for outpatient prescription drugs.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), is proposed to be added as a rider to the 1998 Agriculture Appropriations bill. It would allow manufacturers of seven prescription drugs to petition the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) for additional patent term extensions beyond those permitted by the 1984 Waxman-Hatch Act. It would benefit seven brand-name prescription drugs. The best-selling antihistamine Claritin, with 1997 sales of $869 million, and the top anti-arthritis drug Relafen ($419 million 1997 sales), would be the big winners. The other drugs are Dermatop (for itchy skin), Penetrax (urinary tract infection), Eulexin (prostate cancer), Cardiogen-82 (diagnostic imaging agent) and Nimotop (used after head trauma).

“Seniors on fixed incomes could pay dearly for this ?second bite at the patent apple? deal for big drug companies,” said Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Congress should reject this attempted end run on the Waxman-Hatch Act’s careful balance between promoting innovation and ensuring that consumers have timely access to affordable medicines.”

Studies have shown that generic drugs sell for 30 percent to 60 percent less than brand-name drugs. A spring 1998 survey of selected Washington, D.C., pharmacies found the retail price of Claritin to be $68.40 a month and that of Relafen, $74.40. Availability of a generic version would save this area’s consumers from $246 to $492 a year for Claritin and from $268 to $535 a year for Relafen. Total annual savings to all health care payers would range from $261 million to $522 million for Claritin, and from $126 million to $252 million for Relafen.

?”Claritin’s manufacturer, Schering-Plough, had 1997 profits of $1.2 billion, a 17 percent profit rate,” Wolfe said. “It is unconscionable that seniors on fixed incomes could be required to pay hundreds of dollars more a year to further boost the company?s bottom line because Congress granted the company a special procedure to pursue another Claritin patent extension at the 11th hour in a rider to an appropriations bill.”