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Bayer's drug division could certainly have used the windfall: Market analysts were predicting that it would likely end 2001 in the red. Cipro was already looking like Bayer's lucky charm; the drug generated $1.6 billion in sales last year for the company, out of $10.1 billion in revenue overall. Sales volume in the aftermath of the anthrax panic could only increase.
Cipro is not only one of the best selling antibiotic drugs in the world, but it also earns mega-profits for Bayer. In the US alone, Bayer sold $1.04 billion worth of Cipro in 1999.
As the spectre of anthrax epidemic loomed large in the public, people started piling up stocks of Cipro. The sudden increase in the demand for Cipro led to a steep hike in its retail prices. With the wholesale prices of Cipro at $4.67 for a 500 mg pill in the US, the retail prices went up to as much as $7 a pill. For anthrax treatment, it is recommended that patients should take two pills a day for 60 days. Thus, the retail price for two months stock of Cipro was well over $700, much beyond the means of poor Americans.
Given the fact that two months stock of a generic version of Cipro costs a fraction of the prevalent price, there was uproar over the monopolistic profits made by Bayer from the public health crisis. In India, for instance, Bayer's Baycip (the brand name of ciprofloxacin in India) is available at drug stores at $0.13 a pill. Thus, the retail price for two months stock of Baycip would be just $17. Whereas two months stock of a generic version of ciprofloxacin is available at a price as low as $8 at drug stores in India.
Meanwhile, in spite of higher prices, Bayer is unable to produce a sufficient supply of Cipro to meet the US demand on short notice. At best, Bayer offered to produce 200 million pills within 60 days, much lower than the requirement of 1.2 billion pills. It would have taken several months for Bayer to meet the requirement.
Confronted with a scenario where panic was spreading like wild fire, the Bush administration should have busted Bayer's patent on ciprofloxacin and allowed sale of generic versions of the drug in the country. There are a host of drug companies (including Ranbaxy, Dr Reddy's Lab, and Cipla in India) which have already received quality approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for manufacturing ciprofloxacin. Many of these companies were not only ready to provide ciprofloxacin to the US within 60 days, but more importantly, they offered it at a fraction of price than what Bayer was charging the Americans.