30 Aug 2016

Allergy NZ on edge over EpiPen price hike

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:16 pm on 30 August 2016

Allergy New Zealand is being inundated by calls from anxious parents and allergy sufferers, fearful the price of EpiPens will skyrocket like it has in the US, its CEO says.

A young boy demonstrates how to use an EpiPen to treat anaphylaxis.

A young boy demonstrates how to use an EpiPen to treat anaphylaxis. Photo: AFP

The devices contain a dose of adrenalin, which is injected into the muscle of the leg through a spring-loaded needle, and are used to treat potentially life‑threatening allergic reactions.

When Mylan Pharmaceuticals first bought the rights to the anaphylaxis treatment in 2007, it cost Americans $US93 for two injectors - it's now over $US600.

In New Zealand, the EpiPens are not funded, so cost people between $NZ120 and $NZ200 per pen per year, and Allergy New Zealand CEO Mark Dixon said local allergy sufferers had been watching developments in the US with concern.

"We estimate [there are] 12-13,000 users in New Zealand - and it would be a lot higher obviously if the pen was subsidised by Pharmac," he said.

Pharmac did support a cheaper alternative but it involved assembling and correctly using a hypodermic needle, which was challenging for some sufferers and their supporters, he said.

"Currently Pharmac's sitting on its hands with regard to funding or negotiating funding of auto-injectors in New Zealand purely because there's only one supplier.

"That's our worry - that an allergy community who's already bearing the burden and the cost of these pens now sits there anxiously reading these articles from the States with these massive price increases... We're completely exposed here if the price did increase."

No plans to increase prices in NZ

Mylan New Zealand said in a statement that it had no plans to increase the price of the treatment in this country.

“The price that Mylan New Zealand sells EpiPen® Auto-Injector to pharmacies has remained consistent for many years and there are no plans to increase that price in New Zealand.

"Individual pharmacies set the price that they sell EpiPen® Auto-Injector to patients and this is not under the control of Mylan New Zealand."

Mr Dixon said Allergy New Zealand had not been in communication with the company - but he expected they'd have a fight on their hands if prices ever rose as far as they had in the US.

"I would say that we would find the community would mobilise itself very quickly and the noise would get even louder than it is now."

Meanwhile, Mylan Pharmaceuticals was reported to be planning a cheaper generic version of the devices, which would be on the market in "several weeks" for about $US300, in an effort to counter anger over the price rises.