Although exorbitant, the marijuana-based drug’s FDA approval means that its cost can be partially covered by health insurance.
GW Pharmaceuticals made history this year when their new epilepsy medication, Epidiolex, became the first cannabis-derived drug ever to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But now that the company has announced the pricing schedule for their new product, it looks like Epidiolex may also go down in history as the world’s most expensive cannabis medicine. On a recent call with investors, the company revealed that the new drug would cost around $32,500 for a year’s supply.
That price may seem exorbitant, especially considering that a single bottle of naturally-derived CBD oil can cost as a little as $30, but GW Chief Executive Justin Gover says that the cost is in line with other brand-name epilepsy meds. “We wanted to make sure we were pricing Epidiolex in such a way where the means to access this medication would be consistent with branded epilepsy drugs these patients already use,” Gover said to the Wall Street Journal.
For those with health insurance, the drug may even turn out to be cheaper than purchasing medical marijuana products through a dispensary. “The cost of a co-pay [for Epidiolex] is significantly — or could be significantly — less onerous and burdensome than the cost of the product either over the internet or from dispensary,” Julian Gangolli, president of GW’s North American operations, said to Business Insider.
Gangolli estimated that patients participating in state Medicaid programs could purchase the drug for as little as $5 to $10 a month, while patients with private insurance may have to pay as much as $200 a month. The price of the medication puts it far out of reach for patients without health insurance, but fortunately there are a number of avenues for epilepsy patients to source other forms of CBD medicine. Thirty states now allow doctors to recommend CBD for various ailments, and despite debatable legality under federal law, many of these products are available to purchase online or in health stores across the country.
Although a small number of marijuana-inspired drugs like Marinol have previously been approved by the FDA, these medications only contain synthetic, lab-created cannabinoids. Epidiolex, on the other hand, contains CBD derived from actual cannabis plant material. The DEA has previously classified all forms of CBD as Schedule I drugs with no medical value, but now that Epidiolex has been approved by the FDA, the DEA must reschedule this medicine as a Schedule II or lower drug by the end of September.
There are currently around 1,200 patients in the U.S. who are currently receiving Epidiolex as part of the FDA trials that eventually led to the drug’s approval, but that number is set to expand when the drug is officially released this fall. “We expect to make Epidiolex available to U.S. patients this fall, following rescheduling, which is expected to occur within 90 days of FDA approval,” Gover said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We have been building commercial inventory in recent months and are in a position to ship product into the U.S. supply chain, once rescheduling is complete.”