The Expensive Drug Prices and Patents

The overwhelmingly expensive drug prices have been a matter of debate for a long time, and now there might be a solution. The United States could be more in control of rising drug prices by being more selective about giving patents to pharmaceutical companies for marginal developments.

According to a study published by JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, brand name drugs with patents given for exclusivity are responsible for approximately 72% of all drug spending, despite being only 10% of the entire prescriptions given to patients.

As the study notes, there are currently several different tactics that can be used to extend exclusivity. For example, the cholesterol drug Tricor-1, which was developed by Abbott Labs, sued a potential competitor who applied to make a generic version of the drug, by this delaying the process. In the meanwhile, Abbott changed the dosage of the drug, renamed the product to Tricor-2 and started an aggressive campaign to make sure patients use Tricor-2. By the time the generic version of Tricor-1 was approved, very few people used it. Abbott managed to capitalize on its exclusivity even when a competitor with a generic version of the drug entered the market with this simple trick.

As the study explains, under the current laws and regulations, new medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration have the right to be sold with no competition from generic versions for five to seven years. Based on the statistics provided it seems that the patent office is too permissive in providing patents protection laws for certain drug products. Specifically when the drugs in question are “nonessential properties of medications.”  

The patent office is responsible for protecting properties that are “novel, useful and non-obvious,” yet often failed to properly apply this guideline, and provided patent protection for properties that are not falling under such category.  

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