Increased Cost of Drug May Increase Potential for Pre-Term Labor

By Kim Smiley

In 2003, a study by the National Institutes of Health determined that administering hydroxyprogesterone caproate (also known as17P) could reduce the risk of preterm delivery.  Preterm delivery can cause many health issues for infants.  However, there was no commercial source of 17P, so pharmacies compounded it upon request for $10-$20 an injection.  Injections are generally taken starting at weeks 16-24 of pregnancy for up to 20 weeks.

Concern about availability and quality of this compounded drug helped lead to development and expedited U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of a name brand version.  The name brand version was approved on February 3, 2011 and was granted 7 years of market exclusivity under the “Orphan Drug Act”, an FDA incentive to develop products.  The name brand version of the drug was priced at $1,500 an injection.  Concern over the price increase, which could total nearly $30,000 a pregnancy, led to concerns of increases in preterm labor due to the unaffordable drug.  This on turn led to concerns about patient safety and patient services.  Additionally, there has been general outrage over the increase in cost, leading to a request for a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation into the pricing of the drug and a loss of market share for the manufacturer.

To attempt to alleviate the concerns regarding access to the drug, the manufacturer has lowered the price to $690 an injection and has developed a host of other programs to increase affordability of the drug.  The price drop and other programs were announced on April 1, 2011.  The FDA announced on March 30, 2011, that it will not stop pharmacies from continuing to compound 17P, in a rare move to ensure drug availability.  However, some doctors are concerned that prescribing a pharmacy-compounded drug. when there is a brand name drug available, will leave them open to legal action if safety concerns arise.

The impact of this issue on the future of preterm labor and drug pricing is unclear at this point.  It appears that more action may be required to reduce the risk of preterm labor, either by the manufacturer or the FDA, or both.  View the analysis of this issue, including a timeline, problem outline, Cause Map and solutions, by clicking “Download PDF” above