ICYMI: AbbVie Continues To Abuse Patent System To Increase Profits, Keep Drug Prices High For Millions Of American Patients

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: This week, Axios reported that Humira, a medicine that treats a number of chronic conditions and is widely prescribed and used by millions of people around the world, reached $19.9 billion in global sales in 2018, marking an 8.2 percent increase from 2017.  While Humira is notably one of the most profitable drugs in history, it is particularly expensive here in the United States because it faces no competition from biosimilar alternatives, even though, absent patent abuse, a safe, low-cost version of Humira could have been available to American patients as early as 2016 and has been available to patients in the EU since 2018.

Key Excerpt From Axios:

  • “Global sales of Humira, the blockbuster drug that treats autoimmune diseases like arthritis and psoriasis, hit $19.9 billion in 2018, an 8.2% increase from 2017, AbbVie reported Friday. AbbVie has collected more than $115 billion in global Humira sales since 2010, 58% of which has come from the U.S.”

AbbVie, the drug company that makes Humira, has marketed the drug since 2002 and holds over 130 patents in the United States, blocking competition for up to 39 years.  In Europe and elsewhere around the world, people who have been prescribed Humira have the option of paying up to 80 percent less than we do in the United States by purchasing a generic version.  Meanwhile, AbbVie increased the price of Humira in America by 7 percent back in January.

Unfortunately, the United States’ patent system lacks necessary reforms to prevent big pharmaceutical companies from gaming the system, keeping drug prices high for millions of American patients.  And AbbVie is no stranger to using patents to thwart competition.  Recently, a report by I-MAK showed how AbbVie could have its patents on cancer drug Imbruvica extended through 2036, forcing consumers to spend an additional $41 billion for the cancer treatment drug.  This move would prevent cheaper generic alternatives from entering the market for almost another 10 more years. 

It’s no wonder that United States drug prices are nearly four times higher than average prices compared to similar countries in large part because big pharmaceutical companies have been abusing the patent system for far too long.  Efforts like this to extend a decades-long monopoly on specific drugs, while blocking or stalling generic competition, have substantially increased the cost of prescription medication for millions of Americans.  Now more than ever, the United States patent system needs sensible reforms to strike a balance between innovation and competition, ensuring that patients have access to affordable, life-saving medications especially as we economically rebuild from the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.