Author(s): Jonathan D Alpern, William M Stauffer, Aaron S Kesselheim
It is well known that new brand-name drugs are often expensive, but U.S. health care is also witnessing a lesser-known but growing and seemingly paradoxical phenomenon: certain older drugs, many of which are generic and not protected by patents or market exclusivity, are now also extremely expensive. Take the case of albendazole, a broad-spectrum antiparasitic medication. Albendazole was first marketed by a corporate predecessor to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) outside the United States in 1982 and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996. Its patents have long since expired, but no manufacturer ever sought FDA approval for a generic version. One reason may be that the primary indications for the drug — intestinal parasites, neurocysticercosis, and hydatid disease — occur relatively rarely in the United States and usually only in disadvantaged populations such as immigrants and refugees. In late 2010, the listed average wholesale price (AWP) for albendazole was $5.92 per typical daily dose in the United States and less than $1 per typical daily dose overseas.