Jackie Trapp was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a terminal but treatable blood cancer in 2015. After chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, she was put on Revlimid, a live-saving cancer drug that costs $21,197 a month. Even with good health insurance, Revlimid costs her nearly $20,000 a year in out of pocket expenses.
“We’ve blown through the bank accounts. They’re pretty much empty. We had to refinance our house,” Trapp said about the cost of the drug, which is manufactured by New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant Celgene.
The profits off Revlimid made Bob Hugin, the former Celgene chairman and CEO, more than $140 million, according to a report issued today by Patients for Affordable Drugs Action, a Super PAC which is spending a reported $1.5 million on a TV ad that opposes Hugin’s campaign for the United States Senate.
Hugin is spending some of that money to self-finance his challenge to two-term Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez.
The report claims that the price of a single Revlimid capsule increased by more than 165% since Hugin became Celgene president in 2007, going up from $247.28 to $662.36 when he retired to run for office earlier this year. During his time as CEO, from 2010 to 2018, the cost of Revlimid doubled.
The report also alleges that Hugin exploited loopholes in a federal law to block a “cheaper generic version” of Revlimid from coming to market, and was criticized by Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb as “the number one offender in denying samples of drugs for generic testing and development.”
“Generic drugmakers have accused Celgene of refusing to sell samples for generic analysis, a tactic employed by brand-name drugmakers to delay competition and keep prices high,” the report said. “By one estimate, the type of unethical games played by Hugin will cost Americans $45 billion through 2026 – just for one drug, Revlimid.”
For Hugin, the worst part of the report is the effect of high drug prices on patients. In a harshly worded analysis, the report refers to Hugin as “a man who by his own admission is responsible for every cold and calculated price hike.”
“Unscrupulous price hikes and games to extend the monopoly have created a horrific choice for cancer patients: the drug or death,” the report stated. “And when patients choose life over the drug, they are forced to grapple with the heartbreak and stress that accompanies taking on debt just to stay alive.”
Gulay Turan of East Rutherford said that when her mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, she had no idea that she would be more at war with the cost of her treatment than with her cancer.
“Every day I live in fear of no longer being able to afford the high cost of the medication keeping my mother alive,” Turan said. “Sending Bob Hugin to the Senate would allow him to write policies that make PHARMA executives rich while putting the financial health of patients like my mother in jeopardy.”
Nancy Cartwright said that the cost of Revlimid for her late husband caused them to declare bankruptcy.
“Besides bearing witness to my husband’s physical pain, I also witnessed the immense mental toll the cost of his medication took on him,” Cartwright said. “It’s so hard to watch someone suffer and not be able to do anything to help.”
The Hugin campaign pushed back on allegations that the cost of Revlimid is too high.
“Bob Hugin and Celgene discovered medicines that have revolutionized the fight against deadly blood cancers and have saved and extended lives for hundreds of thousands of patients,” said Megan Piwowar, Hugin’s communications director. “Under Bob, Celgene invested 40% over their revenues in research and development and helped provide prescription assistance to over 300,000 patients who needed help to afford their medicines.”
That won’t be much of a consolation to Cartwright.
“If given a chance to become Senator, Bob Hugin will only look out the rich and gouge the rest of the people like us,” Cartwright said. “He cost us everything.”
Menendez’s campaign has being making Hugin’s record at Celgene one of their top issues.
Piwowar said that Menendez “has zero credibility on this issue of drug pricing.”
“Menendez took $1 million in campaign contributions from big pharma and voted to prevent the sale of less expensive drugs to patients,” Piwowar said.
David Mitchell, a cancer patient who took Revlimid, is now the president of Patients for Affordable Drug Action. He blames Hugin for the cost of the drug.
“No matter how Bob Hugin tries to spin it, patients suffered incredible pain because of his unethical behavior and his unscrupulous price hikes,” Mitchell said.