Nuedexta next in line for congressional questions

U.S. lawmakers haven't limited their latest pricing crusade to URL Pharma's Colcrys. As the Wall Street Journal Health Blog reports, the same group of congressional members who wrote URL to question the pricing on its gout drug have also jumped on Avanir, whose Nuedexta drug is a combination of two longtime generics.

Nuedexta won FDA approval last fall as a treatment for pseudobulbar effect, a condition in which patients lack the ability to control outbursts of intense crying or laughing. It's a problem that can come along with neurological problems such as multiple sclerosis and brain trauma. Avanir got three years of exclusivity on the combo drug, which comprises the generic meds quinidine and dextromethorphan.

Sen. Herb Kohl and Reps. Henry Waxman, Frank Pallone and Diana De Gette have asked Avanir to explain why these cheap generics, available for about $20 per month, cost $600 monthly when combined into Nuedexta, the Health Blog reports (noting that other estimates put the cost at more like $400 to $480 a month).

The letter asks for justification for Nuedexta's brand-name price on drug ingredients that are old hat, just as members of Congress did with URL Pharma. At least one analyst thinks that the inquiry is more about the political environment than about Nuedexta itself. "We think this is driven by recent public health policy concerns on drug pricing rather than the Nuedexta price," Canaccord Genuity's Ritu Baral said in a research note (as quoted by the Health Blog).

What we're wondering is why these lawmakers haven't gone after bigger pharma fish. It's common practice in the drug business to combine off-patent meds--or soon-to-be-off-patent meds--into new drugs with market exclusivity. Nuedexta's ingredients may be older than some of the Big Pharma combo meds' APIs. But if this congressional group can't see the utility of an FDA-approved combination drug, then there are bigger fish for it to fry.

- read the Health Blog piece
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