June 19, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

By Amy Ringrose
2nd March 2022

American investor and entrepreneur, Mark Cuban, has announced the launch of his online pharmacy selling generic drugs at significantly reduced prices compared to conventional vendors.

The launch marks an attempt to aid consumers avoid the high drug prices of current distributors, with products listed at only a 15% mark-up from the manufacturing price. This just weeks after the company formed its own Pharmacy Benefit Manager, or PBM; a company working directly with drug makers and pharmacies and having significant influence on negation of prescription medicine prices in-house.

The 100 generic medications offered by the Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company (MCCPDC) – include treatments for diabetes, heart conditions and even cancer. The leukaemia treatment, Imatinib, is one such drug to be offered; at ~$47/month, the price offered by the MCCPDC is listed at a reduction of over 85% in comparison to drug coupon* prices ($120+ for a 1-month supply) and a reduction of almost 200% compared to retail prices ($9657).

The site does not accept payments from health insurance plans, instead requiring customers to pay out-of-pocket. Despite this, the MCCPDC makes assurances that prices will still be lower than those paid at a traditional pharmacy, inclusive of the $3 pharmacists’ fee, and the $5 fee for shipping. Patients will also still be required to have a prescription from a medical professional before purchase.

There is some debate as to whether the site is actually set to help the 18 million Americans recently unable to pay for at least one prescription medication for their household[1] or whether Cuban’s venture of reducing prices for these drugs is an unnecessary one.

Dr William Comanor, professor in health policy and management at the UCLA Field School of Public Health argues the latter: ample competition for the sale of these top generic medications (accounting for around half of generic-medication sales) he says has meant “the prices have come down close to zero.” He adds “People say U.S. drug prices are the highest in the world. That’s true for branded, but it’s not for generics[2]

Although it is too soon to tell whether the site is tackling the problem of generic pharmaceutical mark-ups – which in some cases can exceed 1000%, according to the Wall Street Journal – the company is clearly determined to persist, with plans to construct a 22,000sq ft. plant in Dallas to manufacture pharmaceuticals, announced to be complete by the end of 2022.

*Use of Direct-to-Consumer marketing is widespread in the United States pharmaceutical industry and allows patients who are interested in a drug – or commonly who see an advertisement for said drug – to request a one-off month-long supply. Drug coupons/vouchers are marketing tools offered to increase demand of (usually) new products. Read more about Drug Coupons here

[1] Read the full report on the recent Gallup Poll here

[2] Read what else Comanor had to say here

Amy Ringrose is the Web Editor for I,Science Online and is studying an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London. Her academic background is in Global Health and Social Medicine, specialising in public health, and has an interest in reading every book she can get her hands on