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Despite promise by FDA boss of lower cost, new generic EpiPen isn’t any cheaper

Jill and Morgan in their home in Lakeview. | Pat Nabong/For The Sun-Times.

A new generic competitor to EpiPen — the life-saving auto-injector of epinephrine that people with severe allergies rely on in case of emergency — was supposed to make the drug less expensive, according to Scott Gottlieb, President Donald Trump’s Food and Drug Administration commissioner.

When the new generic, just released by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, was approved by the FDA in August, Gottlieb declared the move was “part of our longstanding commitment to advance access to lower cost, safe and effective generic alternatives … This approval means patients living with severe allergies who require constant access to life-saving epinephrine should have a lower-cost option.”

But that’s not how things have turned out.

The new product is priced at $300. That’s the same as what the FDA calls the “authorized generic” sold by Mylan, which also owns the EpiPen brand and drew criticism over the $600-plus price of the original version, which is manufactured by Pfizer.

Gottlieb now says he hopes more competition eventually will bring down prices.

Some consumers are tired of waiting.

‘Not every person can afford $300’

Jill Webb, a Lakeview mother of four whose eldest daughter Morgan, a Lane Tech High School student, is highly allergic to tree nuts, peanuts and fish, says the high price is a problem. Like many families, Webb buys several EpiPen injectors to keep in her home, purse, child’s backpack and other places.

The injectors expire after 12 to 18 months, meaning people have to keep buying new ones.

“It’s so nerve-wracking to make sure you always have one with you,” Webb says. “It’s crazy that it’s something that’s needed to save someone’s life, and not every person can afford $300.”

The family recently switched to a different epinephrine delivery product, Auvi-Q, which is offering two boxes for free to people who qualify based on income.

Erica Andert, founder of the group Michiana Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Support, still gets angry about the more than $600 she once paid for a box of two EpiPen injectors for her son, who is severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.

Like many consumers, Andert has high-deductible insurance. So in a year that no one gets sick, the drugs cause her more out-of-pocket.

“Even at $300, that’s still really expensive,” Andert says.

FDA pushing generics

Asked about the price controversy, Gottlieb said in a written statement the agency can’t control commercial decisions by drug companies but will continue “to streamline the generic drug review process to get more competitors on the market.

“We have found that having three or more generic competitors brings prices down more sharply than with only one or two generic competitors,” Gottlieb said.

Teva didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Critics have held up EpiPen as a egregious example of pharmaceutical price-gouging. In 2016, Congress blasted Mylan for raising the price of EpiPen from about $94 in 2007 to $608. Experts say an injector contains only about $1 of epinephrine.

After that, Mylan launched its generic version that costs $300.

That the price of the new Teva generic is the same annoys Julie Campbell, president of the Illinois Food Allergy Education Association, who calls the $300 price point “egregious.”

Campbell recently traveled to Canada and did some comparison shopping at a pharmacy. The price there: $75.

“It’s ridiculous that just across the border they’re costing so much less,” Campbell says.

Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program, says the new price is “disappointing,” but he hopes future generic versions will eventually bring the price down.

“It does show that we have a lot of problems to look at in the drug market — even the generic drug market,” Maybarduk says.

Consumers can find lower prices with a little work, says Lisa Gill, a deputy editor of Consumer Reports, published by the nonprofit Consumers Union.

Though EpiPen is the best-known product, there are other epinephrine options such as Adrenaclick and Auvi-Q, Gill says, that look a little different but deliver the epinephrine needed to stop an anaphylactic reaction.

“There are options beyond EpiPen,” Gill says.

How to save on EpiPens