A recent article which appeared in the business pages of the New York Times about a comparatively small, US-based pharmaceutical company called Questcor is of far more interest than one might initially expect…
Questcor has just one main product, a 60 year-old drug which it sells for $28,000 a vial. The same drug (HP Acthar Gel, used in the treatment of "immune-related disorders like multiple sclerosis and nephrotic syndrome") cost a mere $40 a vial when Questcor acquired rights to it for the princely sum of $100,000 in 2001, and "just" $1650 as recently as 2007 (Questcor's R&D expenditure for the drug was negligible and they made $509 million on it last year).
When Questcor got word that a comparable drug called Synacthen (developed by the Swiss pharma conglomerate Novartis) was scheduled to come on the market and likely to be sold for "just" a few hundred dollars per vial, they quickly bought up the rights for $135 million so they could put Synacthen on the shelf and keep making insane profits at patients' and providers' expense. They likewise secured exclusive rights to Synacthen in numerous other countries, presumably so desperate patients would be less likely to be able to go buy it elsewhere and bring it back to the US, thus doing an end-run around Questcor's exorbitant and cynical price.
The company's stock price jumped 15% on the day the deal was announced.
This little story tells you pretty much all you need to know about the true face of monopolies on essential medicine.