Taking the Bad with the Good

For me, this is a very tough post to write.  Celgene.  This is an international pharmaceutical company that had its first real financial success many years ago when it discovered that the banned drug Thalidomide was good for treating Multiple Myeloma (bone marrow cancer).  They obtained the patent on the drug and developed (and patented) a very strict drug disbursement program, due to the highly toxic nature of the drug.  The worst of this drug’s side effects are the severe birth defects it will cause.  The drug they started delivering was renamed Thalomid.  It has several other possible side effects including peripheral neuropathy – that is the killing off of the nerves in your hands and feet.

Celgene initially sold Thalomid for a few hundred dollars for a twenty-one day (one month) supply of pills.  Celgene increased the price of this drug steadily over the following years.  Several years ago Celgene developed a next-generation drug from Thalomid called Revlimid.  It is very similar to Thalomid with its severe birth defects side effect, but it is not quite as bad with causing peripheral neuropathy.  While other pharmaceutical companies have since developed their own drugs for Multiple Myeloma, Celgene’s Revlimid seems to still be the leading drug that is prescribed internationally to treat Multiple Myeloma. 

Another stated side effect of Thalomid and Revlimid is the five to ten percent possibility of the eventual development of a secondary cancer – like Leukemia.  Sixteen years ago when I was initially diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, I was told my odds were that I would be lucky to live for three years.  So the small possibility of developing another cancer “somewhere down the road” versus the need to take what was then the only viable life-saving drug  was a no-brainer.  Of course, bring on the Thalomid and Revlimid!

After my initial treatments and stem cell transplant using my own “cleaned up” stem cells, I continued taking Revlimid for much of the next fifteen years as a maintenance therapy.  Unfortunately, guess who was in the five to ten percent group who might develop a secondary cancer – little old me!

Celgene has continued to increase its price for Revlimid to where it now charges somewhere near seven thousand dollars a month for a one month supply.  While I cannot find the Company’s quote to notate here, I understand that Celgene has stated they feel they are entitled to charge as much as “other life-saving drugs are charging.”  I calculated that over my fifteen years of treatment with their drugs, my insurance company and I paid nearly one million dollars to Celgene.

According to Celgene’s 2017 Annual Report:   http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/AMDA-262QUJ/6318532010x0x978672/138C3639-1839-499D-8191-34F9E08A0CBD/Celgene_AR_complete_PDF_041718.pdf 

Celgene collected over eight billion dollars in sales last year from Revlimid. Over eight BILLION dollars in one year alone!!  Celgene makes so much money from its portfolio of drugs that its CEO is paid over twelve million dollars a year, between his salary and company stock.

But Celgene is not run by fools.  They are very good at donating money to support the International Myeloma Foundation, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as well as several other Myeloma support organizations and activities.  They also support some doctors around the world with their research efforts.  And of course, you will see their company logo included everywhere they make a donation.  Also, like most pharmaceutical companies, they have a program to provide low or no-cost drugs to patients who cannot afford them. 

However, here is an example of how Celgene’s support works.  They typically make an annual donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to support that organization’s fund to help Myeloma patient’s pay their medical insurance costs.  I personally know of one case of a Myeloma patient in North Carolina who turns in his four hundred dollar a month Medicare insurance receipt and he gets reimbursed for this cost by a grant from the LLS.  Great!  But then Medicare pays Celgene its seven thousand dollar a month cost for his Revlimid prescription.  Hmmmm. You do the math.

As much as I want to hate Celgene and blame it for my past year and a half life-threatening fight with Leukemia as well as my current unemployment, I know that I quite likely would not be here if it wasn’t for me taking their drugs.  I would have missed seeing my three children graduate from high school and college, their two weddings and two (and counting!) awesome grandchildren.

As you can tell, this has been a very hard thing for me to get my brain around.  At the end of the day I guess I have to accept the bad along with the good.

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