Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Thanks to a number of shocking news stories recently -- winter is cold and snowy, Jay Leno is leaving his job for the second time, the three branches of government are run by circus clowns slipping on their own banana peels -- an interview with Marijn Dekkers, the CEO of Bayer, went unnoticed. Dekkers was talking about Nexavar, his company's drug to fight late-stage cancer of the liver and kidney, which costs patients $69,000 a year. 

Well, not really. Considering that Nexavar improves your life expectancy an average of six to eight months, your bill will be only about $40,000. That might not be a lot of dough to you, but it's a little out of reach in India, where the average annual salary is $1,682. (As you read this, Mitch McConnell is trying to figure out how the U.S. can swing that kind of salary for American workers.) However, as Think Progress reports:

Under Indian patent laws, if a product is not available locally at a reasonable cost, other companies may apply for licenses to reproduce those products at a more affordable price.[...] In 2012, Indian pharmaceutical company Natco Pharma Ltd. applied for just such a license, and it was granted. The company began reproducing the drug at a 97 percent discount, offering it for just $177. 
Good news, right? Not if you're the CEO of Bayer it isn't. Marijn Dekkers told Bloomberg Businessweek that such a move was "theft," adding, "We did not develop this medicine for Indians…we developed it for western patients who can afford it." 

Let's allow ourselves a moment to savor this rare candid statement. After so much blather from pharmaceutical titans who only want to "help people" by providing "the best product at the lowest cost," isn't it refreshing to get the real dope straight from the top dope? You cancer-ridden Indians can pound sand. We're going where the money is.

Look, it's not like Americans get all the good stuff anyway. Back in the '80s, Japanese music fans preferred records imported from the U.S. Japan's record industry fought back, ordering all domestically-pressed albums to include at least one song unavailable on the American editions. Imagine all those stateside Debbie Gibson fans missing out on that extra track and you'll understand their pain.

To be fair, Dekkers himself isn't riding all that high. His $8,000,000 salary is a far cry from the $96,000,000 Larry Ellison of Oracle pulls down. Now he can afford Nexavar. While we're talking money, Bayer's profits for 2012 amounted to $58-billion. Maybe they could afford to drop Nexavar's price if they could still manufacture heroin cough syrup like they did in the good old days. No messy needles for the kids to clean up!

Now lest you think all of us Americans are getting a better deal than the slum dwellers of New Delhi, re-read Dekker's quote. Nexavar is for "western patients who can afford it" (emphasis mine). Therefore, unless you have a really generous insurance company or are a CEO, chances are you, too, will go untreated if you wind up with late-stage liver or kidney cancer. So no need to feel guilty on that score. Heroin cough syrup, anyone?


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