Democratic Underground posters get angry at new Hepatitis C drug that costs less than 1/6 as much as a liver transplant

Hepatitis C is a an infectious disease that, in the U.S., kills more people than AIDS.

Some patients require a liver transplant which costs an average of $577,000.

However, a new drug for the disease just came on the market. It’s called Sovaldi, and it costs $84,000 for a 12 week course of treatment.

Taking this drug lets patients avoid getting a liver transplant.

Those of us who understand math think that this is a wonderful thing. Spending $84,000 instead of $577,000 is a huge savings.

I think it’s great that this new drug has been invented.

However, for some weird reason which I do not understand, many of the people at Democratic Underground have nothing but hatred and contempt for Gilead Sciences, the company that invented this drug. In this thread, someone says:

“that’s just despicable… Big Pharma should be ashamed of itself.”

In this other thread, the following comments were made:

“That is utterly obscene…. Remarkable greed.”

“Disgusting and obscene!”

“holding the ill hostage….criminal”

“Bloodsuckers. Put them in the stockades and offer them Freedom for a price.”

“‘Get a rope!’ I mean seriously, what do these monsters have to do?”

“Those behind this sort of maneuver are mass murderers. Using price to deny life saving drugs is no different that standing people against a wall and shooting them, except that there’s no current profit incentive to do that or they’d find some way to do it now.”

“people will die due to no access”

“Big Pharma = criminal enterprises!”

The people making those comments have zero understanding of or appreciation for how incredibly hard it is to invent a new pharmaceutical drug.

I have a tremendous amount of admiration and respect for the people who invented this new drug.

One legitimate point raised in this other thread is that a full course treatment of the drug in Egypt only costs $900. But there is a very valid explanation for this, and it has to do with the nature of intellectual property. Creating a new piece of intellectual property can be very expensive. For example, it can cost more than $100 million to make a new movie. But once that new piece of intellectual property has been created, it can be very cheap to manufacture copies of it. So, for example, a DVD of a movie can be manufactured for less than a dollar.

When people in the U.S. pay $84,000 for the drug, they are helping to pay for the very high cost of the research and development that went into inventing it. By comparison, when people in Egypt pay only $900, they are only paying for the cost of manufacturing it.

Any idiot can manufacture a copy of a drug that was invented by someone else.

But it takes a visionary, creative genius, or, oftentimes, an entire team of them, to invent a new drug as groundbreaking as this one.

Eventually, the patent on this drug will expire, and a far cheaper generic version will be available in the U.S. But until that happens, we need to let this company make huge profits from the drug, so it will have the means, as well as the incentive, to invent more new drugs in the future.

Another thing that I have noticed is that the people who get mad at the cost of this new drug, never get mad at the far higher cost of a liver transplant. Why is that? If it’s wrong to charge $84,000 for this drug, then why is OK to charge $577,000 for a liver transplant?

Apparently, these people at Democratic Underground would prefer that this new drug had simply never been invented.

I love civilization. I love technology. I love innovation. The people who invented this new drug deserve praise, not criticism.


July 25, 2014. Tags: , , , , , , , . Economics, Health care, Politics.


  1. John M replied:

    Great post; thanks for pointing out this astonishing ignorance. A few further points: 1) In virtually all cases, the liver donor is dead, so a transplant takes a life to save a life; it’s not just money. 2) The waiting list for a liver is so long that by the time a liver becomes available, the sufferer’s overall condition may be near death. 3) Left untreated, the HCV aggressively attacks the newly implanted liver, so a transplant alone isn’t effective.

    Sovaldi is a miraculous innovation that took a team of highly trained, highly paid scientists years to develop, and Gilead paid their salaries. It’s amazing to begin with that the media makes so little mention of Sovaldi, and all we see is criticism? You have got to be kidding me!!

  2. E Dell replied:

    What good is coming up with a new drug if most people can’t afford it or their insurance company won’t cover all or most of the costs of it? Even under Obamacare insurance companies are still finding ways to avoid the requirement that they not exclude covering those with pre-existing or chronic conditions. So yeah, great, we’ve got a terrific new drug on the market. But also yeah, most people will still end up dead due to being unable to afford the treatment, thanks to their own insufficient financial situation, being the case for most people in such a circumstance, and/or their insurance company crapping out on them by stiffing them with most of the cost of the treatment that sufferers can’t afford to begin with. And it’s definitely not like people were even able to afford a transplant, with or without insurance, either. Seriously, do you have a spare $84,000 of your own money for any treatment? And even if you’re lucky enough to be insured by a company that would cover the full costs, at what expense would your treatment really come? If you’ve been with your insurer for 10 years and you shelled out $5,000 per year on premiums, you’d still be short $34,000. Where’s that extra cash going to come from? Other people’s premiums, of course, because the insurance company certainly doesn’t take any money out of its own pocket for your treatment. So much for rugged individualism and every man for himself. High cost drugs is problematic and works against an effective health care system as this article clearly points out:

    • danfromsquirrelhill replied:

      E Dell, the new drug costs less than 1/6 as much as a transplant. That’s a huge improvement.

      The article that you linked to says that this new drug is more effective, and cheaper, than other drugs that treat the same illness.

      If we adopt a single payer system, there will indeed be certain advantages. But they will come at the expense of there being far, far less innovation.

      The patent on this new drug is temporary. After it expires, a much cheaper generic version will be available.

      You seem to take innovation for granted, and to assume that it will continue at the same level, even if the government takes more control. You are mistaken. Just a few countries are responsible for almost all new drugs, and that’s because those countries reward innovation instead of punishing it.

      • E Dell replied:

        Yeah, it’s great when new drugs can make life easier and costs cheaper. But $84,000 for a new drug might as well still be $500,000 for a liver transport to the average American who can’t afford either and whose insurance company is unlikely to foot the full cost of either as well. By the way, you do realize that the federal government subsidizes drug companies in their research and development of new drugs, meaning taxpayers are helping in covering the costs of their R&D. So shouldn’t taxpayers, as a return on their investment, get those drugs even cheaper still, at least down to a cost level where insurance companies would be willing to cover most or all of their cost? And if taxpayers are subsidizing drug companies, then what’s the difference between that and a single payer system, which is nothing but a single pool of taxpayer money to draw from for health coverage? If everyone is covered, then that naturally increases the number of people who’d be able to afford to use drugs, thus increasing the customer base for drug companies, thus increasing sales and profits, thus increasing their own funds for R&D without having to rely on subsidies from taxpayers. Not only that, but think of how much money drug companies would have for their R&D if they just didn’t advertise their drugs. The top 10 drug company spenders pump out almost $3 billion a year on that. It’s enough for your doctor and pharmacist to know what drugs do, print and media advertising only paints too glossy a picture of them for consumers to understand the real risks involved in the use of most drugs. It’s all a scam by US drug companies, especially when Americans cross the border into Canada and buy drgus they need for considerably less than they can in the US, because Canada, with the help of its single payer system structure, controls drug prices, while the US applies that silly concept of a competitive market place as justification for unaffordable prices. It seems that in achieving affordable prices, it’s in controlling the market place that does it, not leaving it free to compete.

      • danfromsquirrelhill replied:

        Not everyone will be able to afford this drug. But some people who could not afford a transplant, will be able to afford this drug, and those are the people who will benefit. If you think the price is too high, then you are free to invent your own drug, and you can charge whatever price you think is fair.

        Yes, the government subsidizes drug research. Since that’s the case, then as a condition for accepting such subsidies, perhaps a percentage of the patent could be owned by the government. So, for example, if the government funds 40% of the research, then the government would own 40% of the patent. However, if this is going to happen, it must be put in writing before the subsidy is given. You can’t change the rules after the subsidy has already been given.

        To a certain degree, I think ads for prescription drugs are silly, because it is the job of the doctor to know about the drugs. But I don’t think such ads should be banned.

  3. E Dell replied:

    Governments can’t own patents on something created by private industry, even if it was with government funding, and governments aren’t in the business of making profit, so that’ll never happen. But it’s interesting that you would rather see the government benefit from this rather than taxpayers whose money actually go into R&D. I thought “libertarians” were against government involvement. And for now, the only people who’ll benefit from this new drug at the price it’s going for are, of course, the filthy rich. They’re always at the head of the line for everything as if they deserve it more than your favorite grandma or only daughter.

    • danfromsquirrelhill replied:

      I did not say that I favored government involvement. I did not say that I was against it either. What I did say was that if the government subsidized the research, then the government should own part of the patent.

      A person does not have to be rich to be able to afford an $84,000 drug. Plenty of people who are not rich somehow manage to spend more than that amount on cigarettes.

      No one is worse off because of this new drug. And plenty of people will be better off because of it.

      It’s not the drug company’s fault that these people have Hepatitis C.

      • E Dell replied:

        danfromsquireelhill spilled something like, “I did not say that I favored government involvement. I did not say that I was against it either.”

        Now that’s something that comes from a double-talking conservative if I ever heard one, one who can’t commit to either side, and then you go on to say that the government should be involved by having part of the patent, which it can’t do even if it wanted to.

        And then you go spout another conservative talking point about not spending money on cigarettes so as to be able to afford an $84,000 drug. You’d have to not spend money on cigarettes for about 42 years to be able to afford that drug, but what if you need the drug 10 years into that 42 years? You’re still short $64,000. And what if you never smoked a day in your life? How would that help you afford the drug?

        To say that plenty of people will be better off with the drug only illustrates your inability to define “plenty” and your inability to accept the fact that most Americans are in debt as it is, so the cost of the drug becomes even more prohibitive for them. In fact, 35% of Americans have collector agencies coming after them these days, that’s how many Americans are truly in debt. But then all you have to do is ask yourself if you even have $84,000 for that drug if you were suddenly struck with some liver disease. And if you do, consider yourself very fortunate and only 1 out of every 10 people who could afford it, being those in the Top 10% income bracket. Otherwise, realistically (which conservatives can’t seem to relate to), most people are in no financial position, even with insurance, to get that drug. Except for the rich, Americans just aren’t that rich these days.

      • danfromsquirrelhill replied:

        Someone must be paying for the drug, or they wouldn’t be selling it.

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