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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just approved a generic version of the EpiPen. That's a medical device used to treat life-threatening allergic reactions. As NPR's Richard Harris reports, this will create more competition for a product that had stirred public outcry over rapidly increasing prices.
RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: EpiPens are part of an essential toolkit for children and adults who have life-threatening allergies. They are, essentially, easy-to-use syringes full of epinephrine, which can be used to stop a deadly allergic reaction. So there was outrage when the price of a kit went from $100 to $600.
WALID GELLAD: It was really a big issue a couple of years ago, not only for patients but in terms of momentum around the drug pricing issue.
HARRIS: Dr. Walid Gellad runs the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh. He recalls that officials from the manufacturer, Mylan, were called to Capitol Hill and berated for their behavior. The company responded by producing its own generic version of its product for $300 a kit. And Gellad says much cheaper products are also available.
GELLAD: They just had a lot of trouble gaining market share just because of the EpiPen name. So that's why this issue around a generic actually for EpiPen is of such interest, I think.
HARRIS: The Israeli company Teva has the green light to sell its own generic version of the EpiPen. When a doctor writes a prescription, the pharmacist can substitute this product, says Dr. Aaron Kesselheim at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
AARON KESSELHEIM: Patients should feel confident that this product will work just as well as a brand-name EpiPen.
HARRIS: But how much money will it save? It's too soon to say. Teva hasn't announced a price. And Kesselheim's research finds that generics don't necessarily drive down prices dramatically.
KESSELHEIM: It isn't until you get more like four or five interchangeable generics on the market that prices fall by 50 percent or more. But again, that's just an average number, so we'll see in this case.
HARRIS: Kesselheim says generic competition is the best way to drive down drug prices in the U.S. market. Gellad notes that the FDA commissioner has made this a high priority.
GELLAD: It's a strategy that almost everyone agrees with.
HARRIS: But it will take time to see the effects, he says.
Richard Harris, NPR News.
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