It was smart marketing that turned a lagging device into a must-have device for concerned parents of children with allergies.
EpiPen is a household name now, even amongst those who don’t have allergies, but just eight years ago it was a product not many people knew — unless you had a bee sting allergy. Pharmaceutical company Mylan purchased the aging product and decided to try pitching it to a new market: anxious moms and dads.
EpiPen went from bringing in $200 million to more than $1B annually and destroying every competitor in their path. A business analyst describes the move as “taking an asset that nobody thought you could do much with and making it a blockbuster product.”
But while EpiPen’s profile rose, so did their price — the wholesale price jumped 400 percent when Mylan got a hold of it, and it’s gone up another 32 percent just in the last year. Costing about $415 for two after insurance discounts, EpiPens are so expensive that many families in the U.S. struggle to afford them. It’s especially frustrating because there’s only about $1 worth of epinephrine in the device.
Experts say EpiPen has become such a strong brand that it’s equated to how people say “Kleenex” when they talk about facial tissues. But the cost of an EpiPen isn’t as steep in other countries. In Canada, you’ll pay around $60-$80 if they’re not covered by your insurance. In France, you can get two EpiPens for about $85.
Of course, this may not last forever. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is allowed to market a generic version of EpiPen as early as this year, if their product wins FDA approval. It’s true that EpiPen may retain many of their loyal users, but we bet there are plenty of people who would happily opt for a generic version.
Remember, EpiPen isn’t the only game in town. The Auvi-Q (called Allerject in some countries) is the shape of a credit card and gives step-by-step audio instruments — something the EpiPen does not do. Despite the fact that Auvi-Q devices are covered for 9 out of 10 patients with insurance, there are 9 EpiPen users to a single Auvi-Q user.
Auvi-Q’s voice prompts aren’t the only feature that has people intrigued. While EpiPen is under fire for causing lacerations from embedded needles, Auvi-Q’s needle is self-retracting and is gone in less than two seconds. In an injury study authored by Julie Brown, MDCM, MPH, of Seattle Children’s Hospital and University of Washington, she says they did not see any injuries associated with the use of Auvi-Q — adding “this would appear to be a safer design for use in children.”