If parents of children with severe epilepsy were hoping for a bit of compassion on the cost of the first FDA approved cannabis medicine, Epidiolex, they may be terribly disappointed.
In June we reported GW Pharmaceuticals had received FDA approval for cannabidiol-based Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Both of these conditions are severe forms epilepsy that begin in early childhood. They are intractable, meaning they fail to be controlled by conventional treatments.
There was never any doubt GW Pharmaceuticals’ medication was going to be expensive. Extracting cannabidiol and developing an FDA approved medicine doesn’t come cheap and GW Pharmaceuticals isn’t a charity – it’s a publicly listed company with shareholders demanding their pound of flesh.
The company had previously stated it expected Epidiolex pricing to be in line with other branded antiepileptic drugs used to treat these intractable conditions – and it’s made good on that position.
“Consistent with this, the Company has set a list price, which is based on an anticipated dosing and patient weight assumptions, and translate to an average gross price for Epidiolex of $32,500 per year,” said GW’s Julian Gangolli during the company’s Q3 2018 Results Earnings Conference Call.
Bear in mind that’s US dollars – in Australian dollars at current exchange rates, that comes to around $44,600. The average gross household income in Australia in 2015-16 was around $84,000 a year.
It’s still not clear if or when Epidiolex may be covered by health insurance providers in the U.S. – or anywhere else for that matter.
The company doesn’t seem to be concerned about a potential lack of buyers of Epidiolex, stating the pricing has been discussed with the payer community who appear supportive.
The situation will continue to put families who can’t afford it in a difficult position. GW Pharmaceuticals isn’t the only game in town when it comes to CBD products, but others don’t have the FDA’s stamp of approval – and quality and efficacy of other products can vary wildly. Even using Epidiolex isn’t a sure-fire guarantee that cannabidiol will benefit all patients.
Unfortunately, this is the way with new medicines – for the first movers, it can be incredibly lucrative and this helps spur on research and development. However, that’s no comfort to those denied treatment due to a lack of financial resources.
Still, GW Pharmaceuticals has opened doors, lifting the credibility of cannabis medicines. More will come, but again that doesn’t help those patients and families suffering now.