Guerbet Korea, the supplier of contrast media Lipiodol, is being criticized for threatening the health authorities that it would suspend the drug supply unless they agree to raise the drug price.
Civic groups, including Pharmacists for Healthy Society (PHS) and Healthy World Network (HWN), said on Monday the Korean unit of the French company was making an absurd request to raise the price of Lipiodol from 52,560 won ($48.6) to 262,800 won per 10mg ample, taking advantage of the monopolistic status of the drug.
Lipiodol, approved in Korea in 1998, is the only pharmaceutical product used in combination with anticancer drugs in transarterial chemoembolization procedures for liver cancer patients. As the product is designated as an “anti-retirement drug” that the government guarantees production costs, discontinuation of the drug supply could be fatal to patients.
The civic groups noted that the drugmaker already exploited Lipiodol’s monopoly to raise its price by six times from 8,470 won in 1998 to 52,560 won in 2012. This time, the company wants to lift the price by five times again, they said.
“Guerbet Korea claims that their losses were mounting because the drug price has not reflected an increase in import costs since 2015. The government should provide a stable supply of Lipiodol quickly,” PHS said in a statement. “We could do parallel imports or secure alternatives to replace Lipiodol.”
“The Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service and the Ministry of Health and Welfare are vowing to block the suspension of the drug sales. But the government will not have much to do except for accepting the drugmaker’s demand because the local market allows exclusive rights to pharmaceutical products,” the group said. “The government should make it clear that patent rights that threaten patients’ lives are no longer qualified for respect,”
Commenting on the controversy, an official at Guerbet Korea said, “We are not trying to discontinue the supply just because the drug price is not adequate. Our biggest goal of the negotiations is to resume the supply.”
He went on to say, “We’re in talks with HIRA and the ministry for the drug pricing. As the discussion for the resumption of the supply is continuing, we are doing the best we can,” he said.
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