Biogen’s decision to price its historic Alzheimer’s med Aduhelm at a mouthwatering $56,000 per year expectedly vexed lawmakers in Washington D.C., but it’s now generating criticism from the pharma company’s own allies as well.
The Alzheimer’s Association, a top advocate for Aduhelm’s FDA approval, disclosed in a Saturday statement that the med’s list price is “simply unacceptable” and will “pose an insurmountable barrier to access.”
The high price tag “complicates and jeopardizes sustainable access to this treatment” and could further worsen health equity issues, the Association explained. Aduhelm, also called Aducanumab, requires monthly infusions with no obvious limit on treatment duration.
“We call on Biogen to change this price,” the Association remarked. Biogen and its Japanese drugmaker partner Eisai contributed over $500,000 in total to the non-profit in 2020. A spokesperson for the company wasn’t immediately reachable for comment.
The advocacy group’s firm rebuke heightens the speculation that Aduhelm will become the newest poster child for drug reform on the back of the FDA’s controversial decision to approve the medication last week.
The antibody, aimed to target amyloid plaques in the brain, is the first Alzheimer’s medication to pass the agency’s finish line in approximately two decades and the only drug to treat the course of the disease, not only its symptoms.
Shortly after the FDA’s approval, Biogen pegged Aduhelm’s list price at $4,312 per infusion for a patient of average weight, or $56,000 yearly – several times more than experts had earlier estimated.
It’s well beyond the recommendation from the drug-cost watchdogs at the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, which earlier disclosed that Aduhelm should cost $8,300 per year – at most – given the “insufficient” proof backing its benefits in clinical trials. Many analysts had predicted the medication would cost about $10,000 every year.
Pharma has backed its pricing strategy, stating that the U.S. releases approximately $600 billion in direct and indirect costs for the disease that affects nearly 6 million Americans.
For early launch activities, Biogen is targeting 1 to 2 million patients with early initial symptoms, executives disclosed the previous week. The company won’t increase the price over the next four years.
Investors are still keeping a close tab on Capitol Hill. In a tweet last Tuesday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairperson of the Senate Finance Committee, described the price as “unconscionable” and noted that Medicare should have the right to negotiate costs directly with drug manufacturers.
Meanwhile, chair of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) disclosed to Bloomberg that the price “would cost Medicare billions of dollars.”
The next stop toward Aduhelm’s access is the Center for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS), which “faces difficult policy decisions” on ways to speed up the drug’s availability to verified Medicare beneficiaries, the Alzheimer’s Association noted.