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Fábregas: Mylan needs to overturn EpiPen cash grab

Luis Fábregas
| Monday, Aug. 29, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
EpiPen auto-injection epinephrine pens manufactured by Mylan NV pharmaceutical company for use by severe allergy sufferers.
REUTERS
EpiPen auto-injection epinephrine pens manufactured by Mylan NV pharmaceutical company for use by severe allergy sufferers.

Heather Bresch isn't having a good month.

Bresch is the CEO of Mylan, the maker of EpiPen, the device known for delivering a drug that saves people who are having a severe allergic reaction.

Bresch and her company have been publicly castigated for jacking up the price of EpiPen to unaffordable levels — to $600 from less than $100 in 2009.

The heat must have gotten to Bresch — sort of.

Mylan on Monday said it would launch a generic version of the EpiPen that would cost about half of what the existing product costs. Last week, it said it planned a discount card that will cut out-of-pocket payment for patients by up to $300 for an EpiPen 2-Pak.

But the damage is done.

Bresch has now been placed in the same category as Martin Shkreli, the former biopharma executive who famously defended the price hike of a cancer and HIV drug by more than 4,000 percent.

Whether the comparison is fair or not, Mylan's misfire is yet another example of what's wrong with America's drug industry: Profit-hungry drug companies have way too much control over life-saving medications.

Only a filthy rich person would think $600 is an adequate price for a lifesaving device.

You guessed right, that would be Ms. Bresch.

Last year, Bresch's take-home pay exceeded $18 million.

Heck, if I were making $18 million a year, I'd pay $10,000 for an EpiPen.

But here's the problem: Not everyone in America gets a Bresch-sized pay check. And not everyone runs one of the world's largest manufacturers of generic drugs.

Bresch appears to be completely disconnected from what life in America is about. She probably has never set foot in a Wal-Mart, travels first class and buys $1,000 shoes at Neiman Marcus. And like a smart CEO, she's focused on the bottom line; sales of EpiPens exceeded $1 billion in 2015, according to regulatory filings. Who can blame her?

Sure, she will tell you that her company has given away more than 700,000 EpiPens to schools since 2012. And she'll tell you that you can order EpiPens directly from the company to save money. But if those programs were so far-reaching, there would be no need for the just-announced discounts.

Bresch could face a congressional investigation over the EpiPen price by lawmakers who are livid and making the issue a priority.

“Mylan should not offer after-the-fact discounts only for a select few — it should reverse its massive price increases across the board immediately,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in a statement.

“Drug company CEOs are using a corrupt business model to profit off of our most vulnerable citizens and using them like ATMs.”

Bresch is also getting backlash from the American Medical Association, the largest group of physicians in the United States.

“With many parents required to buy two or more sets of EpiPens just to keep their children safe, the high cost of these devices may either keep them out of reach of people in need or force some families to choose between EpiPens and other essentials,” said Dr. Andrew Gurman, the association's president.

Bresch's bad month is in need of a public relations miracle. She should do the right thing and turn this firestorm into an opportunity to scrub the greediness out of the pharmaceutical industry.

Above all, she needs to extend an olive branch to parents who worry about kids with common allergies to peanuts and shellfish. They shouldn't have to carry expired EpiPens because they can't afford to replace them. Their lives could depend on an EpiPen.

Luis Fábregas is the Tribune-Review's editor. Reach him at (412) 320-7998 or lfabregas@tribweb.com

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