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Joe Nocera

How Drug-Company 'Benevolence' Silences the Sick

Step 1: Make medicine wildly expensive. Step 2: Toss a few bucks at patients and advocates. Step 3: Listen to the quiet.
Home base.
Photographer: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg

Among the drugs that helped bring Valeant Pharmaceuticals International low, none did more damage to its reputation and stock price than Syprine. Syprine is a drug that treats a rare illness called Wilson disease,  which prevents the body from metabolizing copper and can lead to liver failure and death if left untreated.

For decades, the price of Syprine was $1 per 250-milligram tablet, according to a recent article in the medical journal Hepatology.  For most people, a maintenance dose requires four pills a day, bringing the price during that era to $1,460 a year.