Is Biogen actually responsible for placing revenue forward of sufferers?

Two congressional committees lately launched damning outcomes of an 18-month investigation into the Meals and Drug Administration’s approval of Biogen’s controversial Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm. The programs that enabled Biogen’s actions, nevertheless, went largely unscrutinized.

The report listed in depth and severe considerations about Aduhelm’s rollout, together with “atypical” interactions and collaboration between the FDA and Biogen; inappropriate use of the FDA’s Accelerated Approval Program; initially approving the product for anybody with Alzheimer’s regardless of solely testing it on sufferers in early and delicate phases of the illness; and the corporate setting an “unjustifiably excessive worth” for the drug. The report additionally famous that Biogen deliberate to spend billions of {dollars} on gross sales advertising for Aduhelm — greater than twice its growth prices for the product — with a selected technique of targeting communities of color.

With every new story about issues within the pharmaceutical trade comes a refrain of complaints and requires it to do higher. The congressional report itself made its fifth and final recommendation that Biogen and different drug sponsors “ought to contemplate worth and affected person entry when setting costs.”


Whereas these calls are comprehensible, I imagine they’re misguided. There isn’t a cause to anticipate a publicly held firm like Biogen to behave any in another way than it did. In actual fact, it will be shocking if a shareholder-owned pharmaceutical firm did not make each effort to maximise the profitability of its merchandise. That’s its statutory obligation.

It’s time to surrender on pharmaceutical firms performing within the public curiosity over their shareholders’ pursuits and to begin specializing in the programs that allow this conduct. As a place to begin, listed below are 4 systemic modifications that might have prevented Biogen from performing in opposition to the general public curiosity.


First, whereas the Home report rightly referred to as on the FDA to take actions to enhance its approval processes, it didn’t point out the broader systemic problem — the more and more cozy relationship between the pharmaceutical trade and the FDA — that enabled these lapses to happen. With about 75% of the company’s drug division now funded by the pharmaceutical industry by way of consumer charges, critics have repeatedly warned that such funding agreements allow weaker proof for use as proof for medicine’ effectiveness. It has additionally made it tougher to incorporate provisions that might fast-track approval of generic medicine, as this cuts into giant firms’ backside strains. Regardless of these criticisms, Congress passed legislation in September 2022 to increase this funding mannequin for an additional 5 years. It’s unreasonable to anticipate the FDA to take a strict regulatory method towards its paying clients.

Second, even modest drug-pricing negotiation rules would have ensured that Biogen couldn’t set an astronomical and irrational beginning worth. These rules have been repeatedly watered down in Congress’ most recent effort to undertake pricing negotiation within the Inflation Discount Act, regardless that modest reductions would have saved the Facilities for Medicare and Medicaid Companies an estimated $102 billion over 10 years. Negotiating costs is all of the extra essential for a product like Aduhelm, for which Medicare was estimated to account for more than 85% of the drug’s goal affected person inhabitants on the time of its launch. The Inflation Discount Act additionally permits price negotiations for a few years after approval, doubtlessly incentivizing firms to cost extra on the outset with a purpose to have a greater bargaining place as soon as that interval elapses.

Third, Biogen deliberate to closely market to Black and Latino sufferers and their well being care suppliers, regardless that scientific trials of the drug included only 3% Hispanic individuals and 0.6% Black individuals. Mandating better representation of marginalized communities in scientific trials may have minimized such disparities. Biogen eventually promised to extend variety in its Section 4 confirmatory trials, however solely after it was required to take action by the Facilities for Medicare and Medicaid Companies.

Fourth, Biogen deliberate to closely spend money on funding affected person teams. That is a part of a broader pattern, through which affected person teams have served as mouthpieces for the pharmaceutical trade in trade for funding. This technique is worthwhile for the pharmaceutical trade, as a result of affected person teams are typically presumed to talk for the general public and are steadily referred to as on by policymakers to testify on well being points. Though it’s often a terrific funding for the trade, it may possibly make it troublesome for the general public to discern whether or not a affected person group is talking for the individuals it represents or echoing trade speaking factors. Even modest transparency requirements round company funding would vastly enhance belief in affected person teams, stopping firms like Biogen from influencing Alzheimer’s advocacy efforts.

So long as pharmaceutical firms are anticipated to do something exterior of maximizing income, individuals will proceed to be annoyed. Let’s cease anticipating higher from trade and begin specializing in the programs that allow their practices. Every other technique will proceed to disappoint.

Daniel Eisenkraft Klein is a Ph.D. candidate on the College of Toronto’s Dalla Lana Faculty of Public Well being, finding out pharmaceutical advertising methods and funding of advocacy teams, and an knowledgeable marketing consultant for the Opioid Trade Paperwork Archive, which is collectively hosted by the College of California, San Francisco, and Johns Hopkins College. The opinions expressed listed below are his personal. He stories having acquired funds from a Social Sciences and Humanities Analysis Council Doctoral Fellowship, Defining Moments Canada, the College of Toronto, Johns Hopkins College, Ontario Western College, and Well being Canada, although none of this funding conflicts with this work.

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