Today health insurance company Menzis announced [this announcement has been removed. See for reporting in the media here and here.] that it is taking the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to court over the pricing of Seroquel, a medicine used for the treatment of psychosis. Menzis asserts that AstraZeneca abused its position in the market and maintained, unnecessarily a high price for the product through evergreening of its patents. “Large pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca abuse their position and the delaying effect of patent protection in order to maintain an unnecessarily high price for medicines,” said Henk Eleveld, advising pharmacist (not practicing) at Menzis. “That is a form of ‘evergreening’, keeping medicine prices high for as long as possible. This can be done, for example, by demonstrating that the medication also helps for another condition. Then the patent can be renewed or stretched. … During that period, other manufacturers can not bring the medicine to the market at a lower price” he added. The legal action is unprecedented in the Netherlands. It has not happened before that a health insurance company took a drug company to court over a medicines pricing dispute.
Menzis is claiming 4.2 million Euro in damages on behalf of its customers. The case will be heard by the patent court in The Hague on Friday 21 September at 10 AM. This hearing is open to the public.
The issue of high drug pricing also made it into the presentation of the Dutch government’s budget this week. The Minister of health writes in ‘de Miljoenennota 2019’: “Pharmaceutical companies that sell their medicines extremely expensively must provide insight into the structure of their prices.” A strong call for greater transparency in drug pricing.
Earlier this month a 500 fold price increase of an old product, CDCA for the treatment of a rare genetic metabolic disease, by company Leadiant made headlines. The Dutch competition authorities have since been asked to look into Leadiant’s abuse by the Foundation for Pharmaceutical Accountability. In response to the upheaval on drug pricing, the Dutch pharmaceutical lobby group, Vereniging Innovatieve Geneesmiddelen, announced plans to develop a code of conduct. But few are holding their breath.
[Post updated on 22 September 18:54 h.]