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Alexion to challenge Canadian price of Soliris in court

Published on 28/09/15 at 11:19am
Alexion's Soliris currently costs more in Canada than in the US - which is being challenged in the courts

Alexion Pharmaceuticals is taking the Canadian government to court for its attempt to lower the price of the rare disease treatment Soliris.

Alexion has filed a motion in the Canadian Federal Court, arguing that Canada's drug price watchdog has no authority to force the company to lower its price for Soliris (eculizumab).

Soliris is one of the most expensive drugs in the world. It is the only drug therapy available for the extremely rare disease atypical Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (aHUS), which causes inflammation of the blood vessels and the formation of blood clots throughout the body, which can cause sudden failure of vital organs. It has an average patient cost of £330,000, or about 670,000 Canadian dollars a year.

While Soliris is not a cure, it can stop the damage to the body's tissues and organs. Since patients typically need to take the medication indefinitely, it can cost tens of millions of dollars over a lifetime. In the UK, NICE estimates that Soliris will cost the NHS up to £58 million in the first year, rising to £82million after five years, with an average patient cost of £330,000 per year.

The company says in the court documents that the price of Soliris has not changed since it went on the market about six years ago. It argues that the price difference between the US and Canada – Soliris costs around US $30,000 more in Canada – reflects the difference in exchange rates between the two countries.

But Canada's Patented Medicine Prices Review Board is challenging the cost of the drug, saying the price could be considered excessive, and that it costs more in Canada than anywhere elsewhere in the world.

The review board launched hearings in June to force Alexion to lower its price. That could force the company to reimburse health bodies for past overpayments, and regional authorities could apply to recoup some of that money.

This month Alexion filed a motion in Federal Court, asking for the review board to be prohibited from going ahead with its hearing — or from making any order that would affect the price of Soliris.

Speaking to CNBC news Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa professor who specialises in health law, described the unprecedented move as: “This is the single greatest threat to pricing of drugs in Canada ever.”

Lilian Anekwe

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