Hasan Minhaj takes on Big Pharma

hasan minhaj

writer icon Emma Lindgren     Netflix   |   Ethics     🕐 26. Feb. 2019

The US comedian and political commentary slash TV-host, has taken on Big Pharma in his Netflix comedy and news show 'Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj'.

In the recent episode, which addresses rising drug prices in the US, Hasan Minhaj comes down hard on insulin manufacturers such as Danish owned Nova Nordisk. “Maybe the best example of how crazy drug pricing has become is insulin, a drug that millions of people with diabetes need to survive”..” insulin is one of the most expensive liquids in America.” He goes on to say that “..as insulin prices continue to spike, diabetics are taking drastic measures to get their hands on the drug.”

Big Pharma
Drawing attention to Nova Nordisk as one of only three Big Pharma companies that hold the majority of existing insulin patents, Minhaj, who is no stranger to controversies, goes on to highlight that these companies “account for more than 90% of the global insulin market”.

According to Minhaj, the problems of insulin 'price hikes' come down to that Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk, the two companies licensed to manufacture insulin, hold the patents to any improvements that are made to it. These patents can, by US law, be extended “as long as you make changes to the drugs”..”changes, not improvements. You just have to prove it’s not worse” the TV host then clarifies.

Profits from insulin
As previously reported, Nova Nordisk is in the process of spending big money on the marketing of insulin in the US.

According to the CEO of Novo Nordisk, the 78% growth that diabetes drugs accounted for in 2017 should be attributed to “strong dynamics in the GLP1 segment, and each time a new high quality product has been added to the market, it has increased”. Arguing that it is the quality of the product that indicates its value in revenue, not the rising costs of the drug.

On the other hand, claims by Minhaj that “what insulin manufacturers do [is that] they slightly tweak insulin. They refile the patents, and then they lock out any competition”, paint a different picture to Nova Nordisk’s statements on how and why these types of drugs are profitable. Arguing that as long as Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk retain the patents on improvements, they are also in charge of at what rates prices go up.

Minhaj illustrates the struggles of diabetics in need of insulin, where some people are forced to risk their lives due to the rising costs of much needed drugs. The tragic death of “Alec Smith [who] lost his life because he was rationing insulin”, sheds some light on the magnitude of the problem.

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