April 12, 2017
The ever-increasing price tag that comes along with pharmaceuticals has been a consistent point of contention for many years. Recently, drug makers have found themselves under an unflattering spotlight for their ridiculous spikes in consumer costs, especially when it comes to the price-gouging of life-saving drugs like the EpiPen. In 2015, residents of the United States spent a jaw-dropping $457 billion on prescription medications, and this issue will only continue to worsen: The rising price of prescription drugs has long since outpaced inflation.
The latest drug for eczema is one such example of this. Dupixent, which is chemically named dupilumab, is the brain child of Sanofi SA and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and is set to cost a staggering $37,000 a year before insurance rebates — a price tag equivalent to many a person’s annual income. The product, intended for moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis (otherwise known as eczema) is reportedly going to be “the most important future growth driver” for the two pharma companies. The cost of Dupixent greatly exceeds that of current treatment regimens. But apparently, the fact that it costs less than other pricey injectable antibody drugs, like the $50,000 treatment for psoriasis, is supposed to make the staggering price tag easier to swallow.
Eczema affects roughly 2 percent of the United States’ adult population, and is estimated to affected between 10 and 20 percent of the nation’s children. Approximately one-third of adults have a moderate-to-severe form of the condition. Current common treatments include special lotions and steroid creams, along with immunosuppressants.
There’s no question that eczema is a tough condition to live with. The chronic skin condition is characterized by relentlessly itchy skin and inflammation, and can be quite painful and uncomfortable for those afflicted with it. The skin often develops red, scaly and crusty bumps. Scratching makes the inflammation worse, and leads to cracking and weeping of the skin. Inevitably, the skin’s surface becomes coarse and thick.
Dr. Emma Guttman-Yassky, Vice Chair of the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who conducted clinical trials of dupilumab, commented, “This condition is terrible for patients. They don’t sleep at night. It’s like having poison ivy all the time all over the body.” She added that many patients miss work, and even begin to contemplate suicide, because of their condition.
In spite of the attempt at nobility for creating this new drug, Wall Street analysts have estimated that sales for the pharma firms will exceed $4 billion by the year 2022 — quite the figure for just five years on the market.
This new drug has been described as a “game changer,” and it certainly is. You see, Dupixent is something of a hybrid: it’s a biotechnology drug that essentially hacks the human body to block two inflammatory proteins, known as interleukin-4, or IL-4 and IL-13. It is a targeted immune system drug, also known as a monoclonal antibody. In a statement, the FDA explained,”By binding to this protein, Dupixent is able to inhibit the inflammatory response that plays a role in the development of atopic dermatitis.”
Of course, messing around with one’s immune system often comes with its own host of ill effects. According to the FDA, the most common side effects of this drug include injection site reactions, cold sores around the mouth, and swelling, redness and itchiness of the eyes or eyelids. While not technically an immunosuppressant, one must wonder what the long-term effects of taking this drug every other week or so might be.
But is there another, more natural and less expensive way to treat eczema? Some people, like Alice Morgan of Liverpool, have had great success in managing their eczema with dietary changes. Morgan’s adult eczema was so severe, practically her whole body was covered in blisters. In 2016, she made news headlines by telling her tale of victory: She changed her diet and began to fill her plate with an array of fruits and vegetables, instead of junk.
“I am a true believer that the correct diet can cure any disease or illness,” Morgan says.