Benlysta is a new Lupus drug developed by Human Genome Sciences and marketed by GaxoSmithKine. It is the first new Lupus drug to come along in 50 years. The others are aspirin approved in 1948 and Plaquenil, a malaria drug, and corticosteroids approved in 1955. A United Kingdom regulator in Britain recommended that the health care system in Britain not pay for the drug because it is too expensive and marginally effective. The cost of the drug in the United States is about $35,000. per year. In Britain, where big Pharma is a lot friendlier, it is about $15,600.
Last November an FDA panel approved the drug in the U.S. despite some concerns about the “modest efficacy” of the drug. The drug appears to help about 1 in 11 patients. The cost to the system in the U.S. if one wants to be crass might well be translated then to $330,000. per patient improvement. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that is very difficult to treat and any advance is important. The U.S. has long been the incubator for the development of many new medical advances, but in an era of outrageously expanding costs (a 9% increase insurance costs this year reported by the Kaiser Foundation), there really needs to be some cost benefit ratios applied to the funding of health care in this country and the pharmaceutical industry needs to participate in realistically and fairly spreading the costs of its products to the citizens of all countries. The U.S. is tapped out.