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Big Pharma’s dirty secret: EpiPen was developed entirely with taxpayer money

Just when you thought the EpiPen scandal couldn’t get any worse.

While Mylan Pharmaceuticals is cashing in on the EpiPen price hikes, the inventor of the life-saving device, who made it for the public, died in obscurity.

Sheldon Kaplan, who was an engineer for NASA before inventing the EpiPen, lived a humble, middle-class lifestyle. His surviving family members say he was never paid royalties for the device he invented, and never became famous for designing a product now used by millions.

“He was not famous; he was not wealthy,” Kaplan’s 42-year-old son Michael told the Tampa Bay Times. “And I don’t think he would’ve liked to be. I don’t think he expected that.”

After working at NASA, Kaplan started working for Survival Technology, Incorporated in Bethesda, Maryland. Kaplan sought to create a device intended to quickly inject a user suffering from anaphylaxis — a potentially fatal allergic reaction — with an emergency dose of epinephrine. EpiPens are a lifesaver for anyone allergic to common foods, like peanuts, shellfish, and eggs. Before the EpiPen was invented, anaphylactic shock had to be treated by drawing epinephrine from a bottle with a syringe, which was too time-consuming.

In 1973, when Kaplan was finalizing the design concept for the EpiPen, he was approached by the U.S. Department of Defense, which was looking for a device that could quickly inject an easily deliverable antidote for nerve gas. Kaplan’s design was for a device that a person could easily stick into one’s thigh, prompting a spring-loaded mechanism to push a needle containing life-saving medicine into the user’s bloodstream.

Kaplan’s invention became known as the ComboPen, and was initially used by the Pentagon before becoming available for use by the general public several years later as the EpiPen. However, Kaplan left Survival Technology, Incorporated shortly after creating the EpiPen to become a biochemical engineer, and didn’t follow the success of his invention. He lived out his life in a typical suburban home with two modest cars in the garage.

“My husband was always looking for a new challenge, and he tended not to look backward,” Kaplan’s 71-year-old wife, Sheila, told the Times.

“[Kaplan] felt he had a legacy, that he made a difference,” Michael Kaplan said. “My dad was an extremely talented engineer, an analytical guy who delighted in solving technical issues.”

However, for Mylan Pharmaceuticals, which cornered the patent on the EpiPen in 2007, the life-saving device has made billions for the company. According to Bloomberg, a package of two EpiPens costs $415 in the US after insurance discounts. Comparatively, in France, two EpiPens cost just $85 USD. Mylan CEO Heather Bresch’s salary increased by 671 percent after hiking the price of the EpiPen by 461 percent over the past nine years.

Before her hire as CEO, Bresch — daughter of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) — was Mylan’s chief lobbyist. In November of 2013, a bill requiring all public schools to carry EpiPens for students with food allergies was signed into law by President Barack Obama. Over the following three years, as schools nationwide bought EpiPens by the truckload, Mylan implemented double-digit price hikes for the EpiPen every other quarter.

Despite the price hikes, Mylan moved to further maximize its profit margins by engaging in a shady corporate accounting trick known as a tax inversion. In 2014, Mylan reincorporated in the Netherlands to lower its effective tax rate, despite its operational headquarters remaining in Pennsylvania. Despite even her own father saying Mylan’s inversion should be illegal, Bresch defended the inversion in an interview with the New York Times.

“You can’t maintain competitiveness by staying at a competitive disadvantage,” Bresch said. “I mean you just can’t.”

After the 500 percent price hike of the EpiPen from 2007 to 2015, the device now accounts for roughly 40 percent of Mylan’s profits. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), whose daughter depends on the EpiPen for her own food allergies, has called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the price hikes. As of this writing, a petition calling on Mylan to make the EpiPen affordable again has garnered almost 40,000 signatures. Click here to sign.


Tom Cahill is a writer for US Uncut based in the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in coverage of political, economic, and environmental news. You can contact him via email at [email protected], or friend him on Facebook.

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