Why Does Spinal Muscular Atrophy Drug Cost $750,000 Per Year?


Pharmaceutical company Biogen developed Spinraza, the first drug to treat a rare spinal disorder called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), but it comes at a very hefty price.

Thrillist reported that the genetic disease affects people’s muscle movement so severely that it inhibits their ability to breathe, swallow, or walk. In fact, it’s so life-threatening, most infants who are diagnosed with it won’t make it to the age of two.

Spinraza can be a potential cure for this, but it will cost patients a whopping $750,000 in the first year of treatment. The price drops after that — to a mere $375,000 a year for subsequent years.

The drug company argues the first year is so expensive because it requires six treatments. The medication was approved by the FDA in December, and praised by the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Cure SMA as the first and only approved treatment for SMA.

Lest you think the medication is just a tad overpriced, a spokesman for Biogen said the cost was “carefully considered” and “fairly in line with other therapies for rare orphan diseases,” according to CBS News. Although the price could go down with insurance coverage, discounts, or rebates, it’s still hardly in the realm of affordable.

Spinraza’s outrageous drug cost echoes a similar pattern that Turing Pharmaceuticals, formerly run by “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, made when it hiked the cost of the HIV drug Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to $750. While Shkreli was at least honest about the price hike (he did so to make the drug profitable), Biogen says it has a support group that can financially and logistically help families who can’t afford the cost of SMA treatment.