PHOENIX - An antivenom recently approved for fast treatment of severe reactions to scorpion stings comes with a high price tag.
Metro Phoenix hospitals are billing as much as $12,467 per vial of the antivenom, The Arizona Republic reported. Because the typical dose is three to five vials, bills for patients and their insurance companies can exceed $62,000.
People may not be covered by their insurance company because insurers are still trying to figure out a reasonable price for a drug that has been used for years in Mexico at a fraction of the U.S. price.
The cost inflates when the serum is sold in the United States. Each link in the U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain from the Mexican factory to Arizona patients raises the price.
A Mexican biotechnology company produces more than 250,000 vials for Mexican residents, who are charged about $100 per vial. The drug was clinically tested through the University of Arizona.
The drug, Anascorp, is intended to help young children, the elderly and adults quickly recover after suffering complications or reactions from a scorpion sting.
The company that has the U.S. rights to the drug plans to sell it in desert regions with scorpion populations, such as Arizona and New Mexico.
Hospitals say they are billing patients to cover their own costs, but they acknowledge that in many cases, they don't expect patients to pay the entire billed amount.
Drug-company representatives say the antivenom's price represents market reality when introducing a new drug for a rare disease or medical condition.
Traditional pharmaceutical development calls for creating and marketing a drug to a large segment of the population. The large group of potential users helps pharmaceutical companies recoup the money spent on research, discovery and testing.
But when a therapeutic medication is developed for a small number of people - so-called "orphan drugs" for scorpion stings - costs can skyrocket. Drug companies market orphan drugs to a limited population, but they still must pay research, development and regulatory costs.
Rare Disease Therapeutics, a Tennessee-based company, has the U.S. rights to Anascorp through an agreement with Instituto Bioclon, the Mexican firm that makes the drug.
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