Made famous for their work with immunotherapy, Bristol-Meyers Squibb (BMS) is a world leader in biopharmaceuticals. With $16 billion in sales in 2015, the New York City-based BMS has a global presence with facilities around the world. The company develops more than 30 prescription medications in many different healthcare and therapeutic areas, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, psychiatric disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and hepatitis.
In 1858, Edward Robinson Squibb founded the Squibb Corporation, which prided itself on purity and quality control, and supplied the Union Army during the Civil War. John Ripley Meyers and William McLaren Bristol bought out the Clinton Pharmaceutical Company in 1887, renaming it Bristol, Myers, and Company in 1898 and then the Bristol-Meyers Corporation in 1899.
Bristol-Myers started out by making a laxative mineral salt (Sal Hepatica). Following that success, they created Ipana toothpaste and moved on to manufacturing penicillin for the Allied Forces during World War II. In 1945, Squibb opened the largest penicillin plant in the world and was in direct competition with Bristol-Myers. In 1989, the two companies merged to form the pharmaceutical giant that exists today.
Best-Selling BMS Prescription Medications
Bristol-Myers Squibb focuses on research and development, striving for innovation in the healthcare and pharmaceutical field. Some of the top-selling products of BMS are outlined below:
- Orencia (abatacept): for the treatment of adult rheumatoid arthritis
- Eliquis (aplxaban): a blood thinner to treat blood clots in the lungs or legs (pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis), minimize risk for stroke from aFib (nonvalvular atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat), and decrease odds for blood clots after knee or hip replacement surgery
- Sprycel (dasatinib): cancer treatment medication for specific forms of leukemia
- Sustiva (efavirenz): used in conjunction with other antiretroviral therapies to manage care for HIV-positive individuals
- Baraclude (entecavir): a treatment for chronic hepatitis B (HBV)
- Yervoy (ipilimumab): medication to treat skin cancer (melanoma) in adults
- Reyataz (atazanavir): medication to aid in the treatment of HIV-1 in conjunction with other therapies and medications
- Opdivo (nivolumab): cancer treatment used to treat advanced stage non-small cell lung cancer that is resistant to other forms of treatment; can also be used in conjunction with Yervoy to treat other forms of cancer, such as kidney cancer, lung cancer, blood cancer, melanoma, or neck and head cancer
The company also has a hepatitis C (HCV) franchise. The BMS Foundation’s initiative Delivering Hope aims to increase awareness, aid in prevention, and work to treat the devastating disease in China and Asia. The Securing the Future initiative in sub-Saharan Africa works to determine the scope of HCV.
Ups and Downs of BuSpar
In the 1980s, Bristol-Meyers Squibb marketed buspirone (brand name BuSpar), gaining approval from the FDA for use of the medication to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Almost 6 percent of the American adult population has suffered from GAD in their lifetime. Of the 3 percent battling the mental health disorder in the prior 12 months, more than 30 percent struggle with severe anxiety and mental illness, the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) publishes.
Traditionally, benzodiazepines have been used to treat anxiety symptoms. These drugs have many unpleasant side effects. They also can be extremely habit-forming and have a high potential for abuse. BuSpar is chemically different from other anti-anxiety medications and does not have the same sedative and muscle relaxant effects. The FDA prescription information for BuSpar explains that while the exact mechanism of buspirone is not fully understood, the drug does seem to interact with levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Because of this interaction with brain chemicals related to pleasure and motivation, it may be possible for the drug to have abuse potential and to be habit-forming after all. There are conflicting reports as to whether or not it is a better alternative to benzodiazepine drugs.
In any case, BuSpar sold very well as a substitute for other anti-anxiety drugs. In 2000, sales were more than $600 million, CNN Money reports.
The patent held by BMS for BuSpar and buspirone expired in 2001, and Bristol-Meyers Squibb was accused of engaging in anti-competition acts in the previous decade to keep generics forms of BuSpar, as well as two anti-cancer drugs Taxol (paclitaxel) and Platinol (cisplatin), from hitting the market. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that after generic forms of these drugs were allowed to enter the market (once the patent expired), sales for each dropped 50 percent for the rest of the year.
BMS was accused of many different illegal practices, from paying off competitors to squash their patent requests to filing secondary patents and exposing federal loopholes to extend their monopoly in an attempt to protect their profits and keep generic forms of BuSpar, Taxol, and Platinol from reaching the market. Generic drugs are sold at a fraction of the price, and they significantly impact profits for the brand name versions of the drugs.
In 2003, Bristol-Meyers Squibb paid out nearly $700 million in settlements in response to multiple lawsuits filed by consumers, competitors, and states regarding their potentially illegal tactics to keep a hold on the corners of the market held by BuSpar and Taxol, The New York Times reports. The FTC denied BMS the right to the customary 30-day stay on its patents after finding that it did indeed violate antitrust laws in 2003. BuSpar itself was discontinued, and BMS placed their focus on other therapeutic areas.
The FDA investigated in 2010 and found that BuSpar was not pulled off the market due to safety or a lack of effectiveness; it just became less profitable for the company to continue to manufacture the brand when generic forms were available and marketed by competing pharmaceutical companies for less cost.
Another Discontinued Drug: Desyrel (Trazodone)
Initially, Desyrel (trazadone) was marketed by Bristol-Meyers Squibb and prescribed as an antidepressant drug that is unrelated to and different than other antidepressants on the market. It is unclear exactly how trazodone works; however, it is believed to act on serotonin levels in the brain.
While it may be effective in treating depression, Desyrel also causes daytime drowsiness and sedation, and it can potentially increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors. When selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like Paxil (paroxetine) and Prozac (fluoxetine), jumped onto the scene, trazadone took a backseat to these newer medications as they had fewer of these side effects. SSRIs can cause insomnia, however, and since trazodone can help with sleep difficulties, it is often used in conjunction with these medications at nighttime to promote sleep.
Desyrel is no longer available in the United States, but trazadone is marketed in generic form. Consumer Reports publishes it is often used on an off-label basis to treat insomnia, even though it is not FDA-approved for this use.
Drugs like trazodone are best used as part of a complete treatment program that includes counseling and therapy in addition to the medication. Antidepressant drugs can be habit-forming and may lead to drug dependence when taken for long periods of time. For this reason, it is not recommended that individuals stop taking an antidepressant without the supervision and help of a medical provider as difficult withdrawal symptoms can appear. These medications may be helpful in managing the depression and anxiety that can accompany the drug withdrawal syndrome from other drugs, such as benzodiazepines. As a result, they may be included and prove beneficial as part of an addiction treatment program.
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