NCPA has been inundated with additional complaints from independent community pharmacists who have found it impossible to obtain valacyclovir (the generic version of Valtrex) for their patients, even when national chain pharmacies nearby are stocking it. We recently relayed those concerns and some questions to the drug’s manufacturer, Ranbaxy, via a letter which we also shared with the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.
A number of wholesalers can’t get the drug either, fueling speculation that the manufacturer struck a direct-to-large-chain deal giving them exclusive access. More on why that’s bad for patients and independent pharmacists alike can be found in a previous post.
Last Friday, in his weekly Executive Update to NCPA members, Bruce Roberts recounted the valacyclovir situation. Almost immediately, pharmacists began responding en masse, echoing the problems and adding more details.
That same day NCPA wrote to Ranbaxy officials again. We asked Ranbaxy for a reply by Feb. 10; the manufacturer indicated it may need a few more days due to the snowstorm affecting the east coast. Here’s a copy of the letter:
February 5, 2010
Mr. Ahmad T. Aboelezz, Esq.
600 College Road East, Suite 2100
Princeton, NJ 08540
Re: Concerns about restricted distribution of valacyclovir
Dear Mr. Aboelezz,
Thank you for your February 2 e-mail reply to NCPA’s December 17, 2009 letter expressing concerns about Ranbaxy’s decision to pursue what appears to be a discriminatory distribution business model. We understand and acknowledged in our initial letter Ranbaxy’s contention that there are raw material shortages in the production of valacyclovir. However, FDA does not have valacyclovir on its official list of drugs in short supply, which often cites a lack of raw material as the reason for a shortage. Your email reply did not address our central concern that Ranbaxy has decided to bypass wholesaler distribution to all community pharmacies by striking an exclusive arrangement to distribute valacyclovir to large publicly traded pharmacy chains.
While we are concerned about discriminating against non-publicly traded pharmacies, our pharmacy members have properly expressed concern over disadvantaging patients, and private and government payors by forcing them to pay for brand name Valtrex. Your email reply states that, “Ranbaxy has tried its best to distribute product in such a way that provides product access as broadly as possible given the limited supply.” It would be insightful to see the mapping analysis performed by Ranbaxy to support the notion that the chosen limited distributed model provide product access as broadly as possible and we respectfully request a copy of that documentation (and will gladly sign a mutually agreeable confidentiality agreement if necessary prior to doing so). Further, we ask for your response to why the product was not distributed through wholesalers. Publicly traded chains contract with wholesale distributors and, ostensibly, would have had the same access to product as the rest of the marketplace. This would have seemed to be the most equitable way to broadly distribute the product rather than indiscriminately picking certain companies.
Your decision to shut out community pharmacies seems even more curious as Consumer Reports® and other consumer surveys have shown that they receive better service in community pharmacies than by the publicly traded chains. Independent community pharmacies purchase over $60 billion in prescription pharmaceuticals annually. We presume that this is a market worthy of Ranbaxy’s attention; however, your decision to shut community pharmacies out in favor of the publicly traded chains leads us to have to conclude that Ranbaxy has made the business decision to ignore this part of the marketplace.
In addition to our requests for information about the patient access mapping analysis and to support the decision to bypass the traditional pharmaceutical distribution model, we request that you immediately alert plans and payors that valacyclovir is available only on a limited distribution basis only and that the majority of retail community pharmacies do not have access to the product.
It took over six weeks to receive your last response, we ask for your response to these questions by February 10.
Bruce T. Roberts, R.Ph.
CEO National Community Pharmacists Association
cc: Bill Winter, Ranbaxy, VP Sales
Stuart L. Soberman, Esq., NCPA SVP and Chief Legal Officer
The Honorable Henry Waxman, Chairman, House Energy and Commerce Committee
The Honorable Jon Leibowitz, Commissioner, FTC