In delving into the world of Big Pharma and its contribution to the Opioid Crisis, David Yates’ Netflix film ‘Pain Hustlers’ presents a dramatized and comedic take on some real-life events. Zanna Therapeutics is armed with its brand-new cancer breakthrough pain medication, Lonafen, which has the potential to be the next big thing. Nevertheless, the company finds it impossible to break into the market and leave its mark until Pete Brenner hires Liza Drake, a single mother with grit and little qualifications.
With Liza’s help, Zanna manages to overtake its most significant competitor, Praxiom, becoming the leading brand in cancer painkillers. As such, Praxiom becomes the bigwig to beat in the film’s initial underdog narrative, performing a crucial role in Zanna’s success, even if only as a roadblock to overcome. Due to the same reason, people are bound to wonder if Praxiom, like some other elements in the film, has a basis in real life. Let’s find out!
The Inspiration For Praxiom Likely Comes From Cephalon
Since ‘Pain Hustlers’ is based on Evan Hughes’ work, including his 2018 New York Times Article, it remains obvious that Zanna Therapeutics is based on the real-life pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics. Therefore, Cephalon, Insys’ top competitor, becomes the closest relation Praxiom has to a real-life Pharma company. Similar to Praxiom, Cephalon also used to specialize in oral transmucosal fentanyl citrates, more commonly known as fentanyl lollipops, among other opioids. Therefore, Praxiom’s XeraPhen medications are likely a recreation of Actiq and exist to draw attention to the gradual and seamless manner in which people have gotten addicted to such painkillers in recent history.
Although Cephalon didn’t invent the fentanyl lollipops Actiq, they were still involved in marketing the drug. Since fentanyl is such an addictive substance, the FDA only approved Actiq’s usage for opioid-tolerant cancer patients. Nevertheless, Cephalon continued promoting the opioid painkiller for mundane uses such as migraines and injuries. In fact, the company even reportedly used the mantra “pain is pain,” a saying used by Praxiom in the film verbatim. Thus, the similarities between the two companies persist.
Still, Praxiom isn’t an authentic replication of Cephalon. Unlike Praxiom, Cephalon was also involved in pushing other non-fentanyl drugs, namely Gabitril and Provigil, off-label. In the long run, marketing these drugs for unapproved reasons further put the company on the authorities’ radar. The FDA even sent Cephalon a warning letter in 2002.
Nonetheless, Cephalon’s demise remained the same as Praxiom. By 2008, the company had amassed quite a few allegations regarding its off-label marketing practices. During a civil trial, Laurie Magid, a U.S. Attorney, reportedly said, “These are potentially harmful drugs that were being peddled as if they were, in the case of Actiq, actual lollipops instead of a potent pain medication intended for a specific class of patients. This company [Cephalon] subverted the very process put in place to protect the public from harm and put patients’ health at risk for nothing more than boosting its bottom line.”
Ultimately, the company had to pay millions in resolution and civil settlements alongside entering a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement. Yet, before that window could close, three years later, in October 2011, an Israel-based multinational company, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries acquired Cephalon. Consequently, these days, Cephalon stands as a subsidiary of Teva Pharmaceutical. As such, with Praxiom, it seems the film strives to exhibit a storyline that will emanate a similar narrative as Cephalon’s history in the concentrated fentanyl painkiller industry.
Read More: Pain Hustlers: Where Are They Now?