Mylan hunkers down amid EpiPen pricing storm

Mylan is having a Shkreli kind of week. The pharma company has been pummeled by media, consumers, patients, pundits, politicians and even celebrities over charges of jacking up the price for its EpiPen auto injectors to treat severe allergic reactions.

Although various media--including FiercePharma-- have been reporting about the price increases for several months, only last week did the tide turn into a tsunami. Hundreds of mainstream media articles have appeared, with words like “outrage” and “out of control” their common phrases. Social media has exploded with everyone from mothers of allergic children to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to actress Mia Farrow taking the pharma to task.

That has, in turn, pushed politicians into action with several demanding answers from Mylan and pushing for an investigation. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to Mylan’s CEO directly asking for an explanation of the price increases, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has called on both Grassley’s committee and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

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It’s gotten so bad that even Martin Shkreli himself -- the aforementioned former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO and once-called “most hated man in America”-- has questioned Mylan’s integrity. "These guys are really vultures. What drives this company's moral compass?" he said to NBC News, and later took shots at the company on CBS.

Marketing has played an important role in the rise of the EpiPen brand in use and prescribing, as one of the original reports about the price increases in Bloomberg Businessweek pointed out last fall, calling it a “textbook case in savvy branding combined with a massive public awareness campaign on the dangers of child allergies.” In 2007, when Mylan bought the auto-injectors, they brought in revenue of $200 million annually. Today, EpiPen accounts for more than $1 billion in annual sales, about 40% of Mylan total sales.

Mylan’s current marketing includes a a consumer-generated disease awareness initiative, which FiercePharma covered in May. Spokeswoman actress Sarah Jessica Parker has now caught flak for participating. The company also has inked deals to put EpiPens all over Disney parks and in schools.

Meanwhile, even as the EpiPen controversy was spreading into the airwaves and over social media, Mylan was running a TV disease awareness campaign alongside the Rio Olympics coverage. Begun in April, the ad features a scary attack of anaphylaxis in a young woman with peanut allergies. Mylan spent $1.6 million on 38 airings for the ad during the Olympics. Since its debut, Mylan has shelled $14.7 million on airings for the TV spot, according to data from real-time TV ad tracker iSpot.tv.

Adding to Mylan’s reputation problem is emerging coverage about executive pay hikes at the same time as the EpiPen price hikes. Mylan CEO Heather Bresch’s compensation has skyrocketed over the past decade, as NBC News has now pointed out to a mass audience. Bresch has been a perennial entry on FiercePharma's list of highest-paid biopharma CEOs, coming in 6th last year with more than $25 million.

When asked by FiercePharmaMarketing about the latest flap and its potential impact on Mylan’s reputation, the company replied with a statement it has been issuing across media, which seems, at least in part, the same one Bloomberg quoted in September.

“Mylan has worked tirelessly over the past years advocating for increased anaphylaxis awareness, preparedness and access to treatment,” part of the emailed statement to FiercePharma said. That is word for word the same as the Mylan email comment quoted in the September Bloomberg article.

- read Shkreli comments at NBC News

Special Report: The top 20 highest-paid biopharma CEOs - Heather Bresch, Mylan

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