Tell Me Again: Why Do We Need The Drug Industry? The Story of Colchicine

Excerpted from the Labor Paeans September 2010 issue by Ira Grupper: Health Care or Wealth Care (posted Sept. 5 on SNCC_List, published in the September issue of FORsooth, the Louisville Fellowship of Reconciliation newspaper available on line at this link.)

. . .The AARP reported earlier, on June 29:  “The number of doctors refusing new Medicare patients because of low government payment rates is setting a new high, just six months before millions of Baby Boomers begin enrolling in the government health care program.”
Why does our government permit this?  Maybe for the same reason it is allowing a drug company to gain a market lock on the drug colchicine.
Colchicine was used originally, and still is used, to treat rheumatic complaints, especially gout, and other conditions.   It is also being

Colchicine

investigated for its use as an anticancer drug.  Gout is excruciatingly painful, caused by elevated levels of uric acid in the blood, which crystallize and are deposited in joints, tendons, and surrounding tissues.
On July 29, 2009 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved colchicine as a monotherapy, and gave seven-year marketing exclusivity to one drug company, URL Pharma, in exchange for URL Pharma doing two new studies.  URL Pharma then raised the price from $0.09 per pill to $4.85, and sued to remove other versions from the market.
Colchicine is an ancient drug.  Colchicum, the precursor of colchicine, was described for treatment of rheumatism and swelling in the Ebers Papyrus, about 1500 B.C.  The use of Colchicum corm for gout probably traces back to ca. 550 A.D.  Colchicum extract was first described as a treatment for gout in De Materia Medica by Pedanius Dioscorides in the first century CE.
Colchicum corm was used by Persian physician  Ibn Sina, and other Islamic physicians, was recommended by Ambroise Pare in the sixteenth century, and appeared in the London Pharmacopoeia of 1618.
It was first isolated in 1820 by two French chemists.  In 1833 P.L. Geiger purified an active ingredient, which he named colchicine.  Colchicum was brought to America, from France, by Benjamin Franklin.  Additionally, Colchicine, it is said, is “used widely,” and off-label by naturopaths for a number of treatments, including the treatment of back pain.
So, colchicine is an ancient treatment.  Well, comes now modern capitalism and the profit motive, with the Australian biotechnology company Giaconda, the British drug development company Angiogene, our very own URL Pharma, and others, all wanting a piece of the financial action generated by patient pain.
As a drug predating the FDA, colchicine was sold as a generic in the United States for many years. Yet, in August 2009, colchicine won Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the United States as a stand-alone drug for the treatment of acute flares of gout and familial Mediterranean fever.  It awarded Colcrys (the brand name of Colchicine made by URL Pharma) a three-year term of market exclusivity, PROHIBITING generic sales.
URL Pharma raised the price from $0.09 per pill to $4.85, and sued to remove other versions from market. This, some feel, will increase costs to state Medicaid programs from $1 million to $50 million.
A March 18 memo from the American College of Rheumatology reports:  “The ACR has been in contact with the FDA and URL Pharma to address the increase in cost of the drug Colchicine.”  Read the June issue of Rheumatology News:  “As URL Pharma Inc. and other drug companies battle in court over access to the U.S. colchicine market, the supply of unapproved colchicine is beginning to decline.”
In a January 2010 editorial in Rheumatology News, Dr. Edward Fudman writes:  “The price of colchicine (will increase) by 50-fold…unless rheumatologists and patients can convince the Food and Drug Administration to allow the colchicines made by generic manufacturers to stay on the market.”
Remember:  colchicine eases the excruciating pain of gout.  Because of the impending colchicine shortage, and the increase in price (from nine cents to almost five dollars per pill), will the excruciating suffering of patients be eased, or will one drug company gouge profit from the anticipated pain of masses of people?
Contact Ira Grupper:  irag@iglou.com
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