The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Profiting from Others’ Health

May 1, 2023

In late March, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rejected a petition for a price cut on Xtandi, a drug that drastically improves survival rates of patients suffering from deadly prostate cancer. Although it is inexpensive to manufacture this drug, Pfizer and Astellas sell it in the U.S. at a staggering price of nearly $190,000 a year.

Typically, pharmaceutical companies can use patent protection to skim very high profits, with gross margins exceeding 90%, according to the University of Auburn, Alabama researchers. So, by holding a license to Xtandi’s patent and keeping this drug’s price so staggeringly high, Pfizer and Astellas astoundingly enriched themselves from the sufferings of prostate cancer patients.

The Biden Administration may claim that it wants to reduce high drug prices. But it rejected this petition related to one of the most expensive drugs in the market today. In fact, the Biden Administration, like every other administration, protects drug companies’ profits by allowing them to charge whatever they want on life-saving drugs.

Most drugs are invented based on scientific research funded by the U.S. government and done in universities and institutions. Xtandi, which is only one other example, was invented and patented by a public university, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in 2006. Later, UCLA gave Pfizer and Astellas marketing control of this drug through a patent license. As a result of this license, Pfizer and Astellas hugely benefited from its sales.

Theoretically, the U.S. government could seize licensing rights to drug patents developed with taxpayers’ money, under the so-called “march-in rights” of the Bayh-Dole Act, and license them to other entities for their inexpensive commercialization.

But the U.S. Government never does this. Only eight petitions were filed during 43 years of the Bayh-Dole law’s existence to decrease drug prices to reasonable levels. The U.S. Government rejected all the petitions, making this law a cruel joke.

This drug case is another example of business as usual under capitalism. The government enforces not its meaningless laws, but the rights of companies to gouge prices. We pay for such dumbfounding prices through our lives.