Health Care

CEO of biotech group says lawsuits are on the table to stop Trump drug proposal

The CEO of a biotech and pharmaceutical trade group warned Tuesday that the industry could sue to try to stop a proposal from the Trump administration to lower drug prices. 

The Trump administration could move forward as soon as this week on a proposal to lower certain Medicare drug prices by tying them to lower prices paid in other wealthy countries, an idea fiercely opposed by drug companies, which are now mobilizing both to try to stop the rule and plan for a fight if it does go forward. 

“I would say all tools would be at our disposal because it would just have such a devastating impact on our ability to bring new cures for patients,” Michelle McMurry-Heath, CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, told The Hill on Tuesday.  

McMurry-Heath also accused President Trump of moving forward with the proposal out of retribution because the drug companies did not announce efficacy results for coronavirus vaccines before the election.  

“We’re hearing that he’s doing it out of apparent retribution because our researchers didn’t comply with his arbitrary timeline,” McMurry-Heath said. 

Trump did tweet his displeasure at Pfizer last week for not announcing results before the election. Pfizer, however, said it was simply following the science and announced the data once it was available from an independent board overseeing the clinical trial.  

But Trump also initially proposed this drug pricing plan, known as “most-favored nation,” well before the election and Pfizer’s announcement. An earlier version was unveiled in 2018, and Trump signed an executive order to push it forward in September.  

McMurry-Heath, whose organization represents small biotech companies as well as large pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, argued that if the proposal goes forward this week, it would harm the industry’s ability to continue developing coronavirus vaccines and treatments.  

She said the administration should “consider the impact this will have on an industry that’s trying to get a nation and world back on its feet.”

Under fire over their prices, drug companies have been increasingly pointing to their work fighting the coronavirus pandemic to try to improve their image. 

More broadly, McMurry-Heath said the reduced prices from the proposal would mean “investment would dry up” in innovative small biotech companies. 

Advocates for lower drug prices say the industry simply uses protecting innovation as an excuse to fight proposals that would lower their profits, and that the Trump proposal would help remedy a situation where the U.S. pays two to three times what other countries pay for drugs.  

“They don’t raise prices to fuel innovation; they raise prices to hit profit targets and to trigger executive bonuses,” said David Mitchell, founder of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, pointing to an investigation from the House Oversight Committee in September.  

He also pointed to the billions of dollars in investments from the government’s Operation Warp Speed to fight coronavirus. “It’s the taxpayers who are investing in vaccines and treatments,” he said.  

McMurry-Heath said her understanding is that the administration’s proposal will only affect drugs in Medicare Part B, meaning drugs administered in doctors offices, and not those in Part D, which is drugs people pick up at the pharmacy counter. 

She said BIO has not yet been in touch with the incoming Biden administration, which would be left to finish the implementation of the program. 

“They’re just going to lay this debacle on the doorstep of the Biden administration and let them clean up the mess,” she said.

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump Drug prices Vaccine

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