Martha Rosenberg – Major Pharma Scandal: Whistleblowers Claim Popular Asthma Drug Was Marketed Illegally

Asthma is big business for Big Pharma. Advair was the third best selling drug in the world in 2013 and the asthma drugs Singulair and Symbicort were also blockbusters. So it is no surprise the prospect of a high-tech injectable drug that stops an allergic response by binding to Immunoglobulin E (IgE) made Big Pharma sit up and take notice.

Xolair (omalizumab), developed from humanized rodent cells (yes, you read that right), is part of Big Pharma’s new wave of bio-engineered liquid drugs, rolled out when blockbusters like Lipitor and Viagra went off-patent. Injected drugs/biologics can earn as much as $20,000 or more per patient per year and are resistant to the quick generic competition that threatens easier-to-replicate pills. Currently biologics Humira and Enbrel are bestsellingdrugs.

A biologic that could treat asthma sounded so lucrative, Novartis actually sued Genentech, which was developing a similar drug to its own for “trade secret” violations until the drug giants decided to team up and sell Xolair together.

They no doubt regretted their optimism.

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