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LEHI — Some of the most essential generic medications are about to become more available and more affordable, thanks to a new, one-of-a-kind company with a mission to put patients first.
Civica Rx, a nonprofit generic drug company headquartered in Utah, has more than 900 hospitals across the United States on board and will begin supplying at least 14 widely used generic drugs before the end of the year, said Civica Rx President and CEO Martin VanTrieste.
"I've always felt that serving patients was a privilege and a responsibility," VanTrieste, a retired pharmacist who won't be taking a salary for his work at the local startup, said Thursday. "I've always thought we should do what's best for the patients. I've been fortunate in my life and this is an opportunity for me to give back."
Three years in the making, Civica is the "brainchild" of Dan Liljenquist, a former Utah senator and senior vice president at Intermountain Healthcare. He said the realization that major pharmaceutical companies had the ability to pull products from the market and charge whatever they want for them was "just not sitting well with me. "
"It's a social injustice, really," Liljenquist said.
The idea for Civica Rx, he said, "was like a light turned on, and I could see down the road, this company."
Civica will help to address the more than 277 drug shortages tracked by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists across the country, many of which have long made it through the expensive research and patent process and have been available as generics, some at lower costs than they are now.
"That practice is bad for patients," said Dr. Marc Harrison, CEO at Intermountain Healthcare, which is backing the Civica team. "We want to make some of these things right."
Harrison said doctors are forced to use sometimes unfamiliar and more expensive alternatives for common therapies because of ongoing shortages of medications that would be better for patients, resulting in fewer side effects or errors.
Liljenquist said manufacturers for the supply of essential generic drugs will be located throughout the country, as having multiple locations reduces the risk for future problems. For example, hospitals everywhere dealt with major problems resulting from the destruction of the world's foremost saline plant in a Puerto Rico hurricane years ago.
Those issues have largely been resolved, though others have taken its place, and the Civica team is aware that health care is an ever-changing marketplace.
Civica aims to make essential generic drugs available and affordable to everyone by increasing the competition for older generic drugs, ensuring a robust supply chain, as well as providing long-term volume certainty and pricing stability.
It has teamed up with every health system (for-profit and nonprofit) in Utah, as well as dozens outside of the state, with its mission to impact patients.
"Like most things in life, it takes many people working together to find a solution," said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who participated in the official Civica opening on Thursday.
He said, according to an American Hospital Association survey, 78 percent of hospitals in America face significant challenges in obtaining very common generic drugs. And 90 percent have had to find alternative therapies for patients.
"Health care is such a personal issue and an issue that affects everyone," said Congressman Ben McAdams, D-Utah. "And it's complicated."
Harrison said that half of people who are in poor or fair health cannot afford all of the medications they need and about 30 percent don't take medications as prescribed, rationing them to make them last longer.
"This is threatening our population," he said.
Government leaders congratulated Harrison and his team, which together operate 22 hospitals and 185 clinics in and around Utah, with over 37,000 personnel.
"At its best, health care is a team sport," Harrison said, addressing all of the collaboration that has gone into creating Civica Rx.
Erin Fox, senior director for drug information services at the University of Utah, said the Federal Drug and Safety Administration can't necessarily be blamed for the problems, as it can't compel companies to create and produce products, but regulates them.
She said she is anxious to see Civica Rx help decrease shortages and redirect the "incredible waste of resources that goes into making workarounds for these medications" to patient care.
"This is a model we want everyone to participate in," Liljenquist said, adding that the company was designed to never make a profit.
"Civica is designed to serve a higher purpose, not a bottom line," Harrison added.
The Lehi headquarters, at 2912 Executive Parkway, will house at least 40 employees and its board of directors, made up of leaders from health systems throughout the country, is already talking about expansion in and outside of Utah.
"Together we celebrate the reason why Civica Rx exists, in purpose and in brick and mortar, and that is to do what is in the best interest of patients by stabilizing the supply of generic medications," VanTrieste said.
"Drug shortages strain hospital staff, lead to delayed surgeries and sub-optimal treatments for patients, and can lead to unpredictable price increases that result in budgetary instability in hospitals."