Slooooooow Sales for BiDil®

Posted by Osagie K. Obasogie October 18, 2006
Biopolitical Times
Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that sales for BiDil®—the first drug to receive FDA approval to treat a specific race—are unexpectedly slow. Marketed as treating heart failure in African-Americans, BiDil® was expected to generate $130 million in sales this year; thus far, only a little over $5 million has come in. Estimates show that only 1% of the 750,000 Blacks suffering from heart failure are using it.

There’s no shortage of explanations for why Black people are about as unlikely to take BiDil® as they are to name a newborn child Katrina. Some say BiDil® treats the heart at the expense of an arm and a leg, costing patients between $1300 - $2800 per year. Others blame insurance companies for only paying for patients to take generic versions of BiDil’s® active ingredients rather than the more expensive single dose pill. True to its Reaganomic impulses, the Wall Street Journal highlights government’s role in this market failure: many Blacks who could receive BiDil® under Medicaid lost this eligibility when Medicare Part D went into effect in January.

But, perhaps there’s another explanation that the Wall Street wing tips are missing: a sense of history.

During a conference I attended earlier this year on BiDil® and race specific medicines, an older Black woman in the audience stood up and said “If I were sick and somebody told me that they had a drug just for Black people to help me, I’d say to them: give me what the white people are taking.” BiDil’s® age demographic—Blacks 45 and older—are the very same people with intimate knowledge of how race and science can be dangerous bedfellows, as seen in the Tuskegee studies and countless other examples of human experimentation on people of color. BiDil’s® sluggish sales may be less about market impediments and price points and more about Black people’s skepticism of racial profiling in medicine.