Bundles in the Pharmaceutical Industry: A Case Study of Pediatric Vaccines, by Kevin W. Caves and Hal J. Singer of Navigant Economics, provides a technical but still accessible analysis of the anticompetitive effects of vaccine manufacturers’ practice of conditioning price discounts on physician buying groups agreeing to purchase the manufacturers’ vaccines in a bundle and agreeing not to purchase other manufacturers’ products. The article begins with an interesting overview of the characteristics of the vaccine market, an introduction to the physician buying groups that purchase vaccines and to the anti-kickback concerns they raise, and a summary of the (somewhat up in the air) legal standard for when bundled discounting becomes an antitrust violation.
The authors then present their analysis of the uphill battle Novartis (a source of funding for the article) will have to fight to induce physicians to “break the bundle” and buy its new meningitis vaccine. The authors conclude that even if Novartis were to give away its meningitis vaccine for free, “buyers defecting from [Sanofi Pasteur’s bundle of vaccines, which includes Sanofi’s meningitis vaccine,] would still lose $14.05 per patient in expected value.” They present data indicating “that buyers unencumbered by … Sanofi’s loyalty contracts are over three times as likely to purchase [Novartis’ vaccine], relative to encumbered buyers…” and conclude that enough of the market is foreclosed to Novartis to establish a presumption of anticompetitive effects and concomitant harm to consumers. Per the authors, “[i]n an industry served almost exclusively by large, multi-product incumbents, with no prospects for generic competition and extremely limited entry by competitive rivals of any kind, these findings have significant implications for public policy and antitrust enforcement.”
Somewhat less accessible (due to a plethora of equations) but still well worth reading is Tort Liability and the Market for Prescription Drugs by Eric Helland, Darius Lakdawalla, Anup Malani, and Seth Seabury. Helland and his co-authors present the results of an empirical study of the relationship between product liability rules and drug price and utilization. While the effect of a liability rule can often be studied by comparing a state that makes a change to the rule with one that does not, the authors had to modify this approach because drugs are sold nationally. They determined the exposure to punitive damages caps of each of nearly 16,000 drugs by first determining each drug’s geographic distribution of sales, a figure which varies from drug to drug due to geographic variation in the prevalence of disease. The authors found that the degree of exposure to caps was correlated with an increase in drug prices but also with an increase in drug utilization. Tighter liability standards also correlate with a reduction in adverse drug reactions. The authors write that their numbers “imply that if every remaining state adopted some reform, there would be a 23% increase in all [adverse] events and a 25% increase in serious [adverse] events … among branded drugs.” They conclude that “on balance, liability improves consumer and social welfare.”