Guerbet Korea has come under fire again for requesting 5-fold price hikes for its contrast medium Lipiodol and stopping imports of it at the same time, ringing alarm bells for liver cancer patients and civic groups.
Lipiodol is the only pharmaceutical agent that can be used in combination with anticancer drugs in transarterial chemoembolization (TACE) procedures for liver cancer patients.
“Leaving liver cancer patients on the fray while requesting a five-fold price increase by pressuring the HIRA and the Ministry of Health and Welfare looks like nothing but ‘gapjil’ by a pharmaceutical firm with monopolistic control,” the Korea Organization for Patient Group said in a strongly worded statement Monday.
Gapjil is a Korean word that refers to excessive abuse of power by those who are in advantageous positions.
The French pharmaceutical company is requesting to raise the price of a 10 mL ampule of Lipiodol from 52,560 won ($52) to 262,800 won ($245). Guerbet had asked the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service (HIRA) to increase drug prices in March.
Although the firm made a similar request in 2012 and got a partial price hike, Guerbet maintained that the rising costs of imports after 2015 was not reflected and has led to losses. The drugmaker had previously raised the price of Lipiodol by six times from 8,470 won in 1998 to 52,560 won in 2012.
“Guerbet Korea claims the reason for the excessive price hike request is because Lipiodol was raised to 300,000 won in China, and demand for the drug also increased there,” KOPG said. The group noted that requesting drug prices may be reasonable but doing so by stopping its monopolized supply is not.
According to the patient group, Guerbet had announced that it would resume imports of Lipiodol at the end of May but on the condition of “conducting negotiations for reasonable prices.”
Physicians in the field have been treating patients with lipiodol stocked in storage, which is now nearing depletion, however, the KOPG said.
The patient group urged for both the government and the pharmaceutical firm to consider the lives of liver cancer patients during negotiations.
Guerbet Korea had said they are negotiating for a higher price to resume supply.
“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,” a company official said in April. “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 our best.”
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