Sen. Bernie Sanders (Michael Brochstein/Sipa via AP Images)

‘A mess across the board’: Sen­ate com­mit­tee kicks off talks on drug pric­ing re­forms

The US is still the on­ly coun­try in the world that doesn’t ne­go­ti­ate phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prices across the board, ex­perts told a Sen­ate com­mit­tee on Tues­day, but how ex­act­ly to fix that re­mains un­clear and few of the so­lu­tions dis­cussed will sur­prise any­one watch­ing the pric­ing de­bate play out over the last decade.

Set­ting the tone for the hear­ing, which fea­tured com­ments from a type 1 di­a­betes pa­tient, Elia Spates, who has seen her in­sulin costs triple over about a decade, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) honed in on the fact that Spates is not alone, and 1 out of 5 Amer­i­cans could not af­ford their pre­scrip­tion drugs last year.

“How crazy is that?” he asked rhetor­i­cal­ly.

Sanders re­cent­ly in­tro­duced three bills co-spon­sored by oth­er De­moc­rats to tack­le drug prices, of­fer­ing re­cy­cled ideas on peg­ging the price of drugs in the US to for­eign coun­tries’ prices (an idea al­so float­ed by for­mer Pres­i­dent Trump), al­low­ing HHS to ne­go­ti­ate drug prices un­der Medicare Part D (which has been de­bat­ed for more than a decade), and al­low­ing drug im­ports from Cana­da (which is al­ready on­go­ing).

Aaron Kessel­heim

Ex­perts at the hear­ing of­fered their own so­lu­tions for what should be done. Aaron Kessel­heim, pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine at Har­vard Med­ical School, ex­plained a more de­tailed ap­proach – call­ing for the US to eval­u­ate new drugs up­front based on a re­view of their clin­i­cal ben­e­fits and then al­low­ing the gov­ern­ment to ne­go­ti­ate prices based on their find­ings. He al­so called for the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to crack down on price in­creas­es “well be­yond in­fla­tion,” and to en­sure that patents for new med­i­cines are le­git­i­mate.

“The phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal lob­by is large and well-fund­ed and will ar­gue that any re­duc­tion in rev­enues will harm in­no­va­tion. But most drugs ap­proved each year are not tru­ly in­no­v­a­tive and in a re­view of 2017 new ap­provals, on­ly a mi­nor­i­ty of those re­viewed by in­de­pen­dent ex­pert bod­ies of­fered more than min­i­mal clin­i­cal ad­van­tages over avail­able treat­ments,” he said in his writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ny.

But De­moc­rats hold a ra­zor-thin ma­jor­i­ty in the Sen­ate, mean­ing Re­pub­li­cans will need to be won over to get a stand­alone bill passed.

Alex Law­son, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of So­cial Se­cu­ri­ty Works who’s been work­ing be­hind the scenes on drug pric­ing on Capi­tol Hill, told End­points News in a phone in­ter­view that he thinks ma­jor drug pric­ing re­forms will be tagged on­to an­oth­er in­fra­struc­ture bill, which has to hap­pen be­fore Sep­tem­ber, be­cause it would be im­pos­si­ble for the De­moc­rats to get 60 votes to pass a stand­alone bill.

Alex Law­son

“I think ne­go­ti­a­tion will be the heart of what it is – some form of ne­go­ti­a­tion,” he said. “In­dus­try thinks that they won’t have to deal with ex­tra­or­di­nar­i­ly high drug prices be­cause the vac­cines are turn­ing the cor­ner on this pan­dem­ic, and I think they’re sore­ly mis­tak­en.”

The idea of hav­ing the sav­ings from high drug prices pay for new in­fra­struc­ture is al­so at­trac­tive to De­moc­rats, he not­ed.

But some Re­pub­li­cans, hes­i­tant to harm a biotech ecosys­tem that is flour­ish­ing and has brought the US mul­ti­ple Covid-19 vac­cines in less than a year, fo­cused their com­ments Tues­day on ways to re­duce pa­tients’ out-of-pock­et ex­pens­es with­out hurt­ing drug­mak­ers’ bot­tom lines, as well as ways to in­crease trans­paren­cy and en­sure re­bates end up in pa­tients’ pock­ets.

Louisiana Re­pub­li­can Bill Cas­sidy al­so ex­pressed con­cerns about the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment set­ting drug prices uni­lat­er­al­ly, which could have a chill­ing ef­fect on VCs that fund the work that takes a com­pound from the bench to a tri­al, and are ex­pect­ing a re­turn on their in­vest­ments.

Re­pub­li­can Su­san Collins of Maine not­ed she hopes Con­gress can find com­mon ground on the is­sue of drug prices be­cause “when a doc­tor pre­scribes a need­ed med­ica­tion, an in­sur­mount­able is­sue should not be the cost.”

In­di­ana Re­pub­li­can Mike Braun, how­ev­er, went in the oth­er di­rec­tion and in­di­cat­ed a will­ing­ness to let the gov­ern­ment step in, call­ing the cur­rent drug pric­ing sys­tem “a mess across the board.” He al­so said of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try, “There is no oth­er sec­tor of our econ­o­my that has less trans­paren­cy, less com­pe­ti­tion and more bar­ri­ers to en­try and dis­en­gaged con­sumers. One al­ter­na­tive is to bring in gov­ern­ment.”

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Am­gen, years be­hind ri­vals, says PhI obe­si­ty drug shows dura­bil­i­ty signs

While NBC ran “The Biggest Loser” for 17 seasons, deemed toxic by critics for the reality show’s punishing exercise and diet upheavals, researchers in pharmaceutical labs have been attempting to create prescription drugs that induce weight loss — and one pharma betting it can require less frequent dosing is out with a new crop of data.

Amgen was relatively late to the game compared to its approved competitor Novo Nordisk and green light-approaching rival Eli Lilly. But early data suggested Amgen’s AMG 133 led to a 14.5% weight reduction in the first few months of dosing, buoying shares earlier this fall, and now the California pharma is out with its first batch of durability data showing that figure fell slightly to 11.2% about 150 days after the last dose. Amgen presented at the 20th World Congress on Insulin Resistance, Diabetes & Cardiovascular Disease on Saturday afternoon.

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Big week for Alzheimer’s da­ta; As­traZeneca buys cell ther­a­py start­up; Dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics hits a pay­er wall; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

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Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

As mon­ey pours in­to dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics, in­sur­ance cov­er­age crawls



Talk therapy didn’t help Lily with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. But a video game did.

As the 10-year-old zooms through icy waters and targets flying creatures on the snow-capped planet Frigidus, she builds attention skills, thanks to Akili Interactive Labs’ video game EndeavorRx. She’s now less anxious and scattered, allowing her to stay on a low dose of ADHD medication, according to her mom Violet Vu.

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Eli Lil­ly’s Alzheimer’s drug clears more amy­loid ear­ly than Aduhelm in first-ever head-to-head. Will it mat­ter?

Ahead of the FDA’s decision on Eli Lilly’s Alzheimer’s drug donanemab in February, the Big Pharma is dropping a first cut of data from one of the more interesting trials — but less important in a regulatory sense — at an Alzheimer’s conference in San Francisco.

In the unblinded 148-person study, Eli Lilly pitted its drug against Aduhelm, Biogen’s drug that won FDA approval but lost Medicare coverage outside of clinical trials. Notably, the study didn’t look at clinical outcomes, but rather the clearance of amyloid, a protein whose buildup is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, in the brain.

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US month­ly costs for biosim­i­lars 'sub­stan­tial­ly high­er' than Ger­many or Switzer­land, JA­MA re­search finds

As the global biologics market is expected to hit nearly the half-trillion-dollar mark this year, new JAMA research points to the importance of timely biosimilar entry, particularly as fewer biosimilars are entering the US than in Europe, and as monthly treatment costs for biosimilars were “substantially higher” in the US compared with Germany and Switzerland.

Among the three countries, biosimilar market share at launch was highest in Germany, but increased at the fastest rate in the US, the authors from the University of Zurich’s Institute of Law wrote in JAMA Network Open today.

Kirk Myers is shown in a still image from a new film series showcasing the efforts of HIV advocates funded by Gilead.

Gilead spot­lights HIV projects and the com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers dri­ving them in new mi­ni-doc­u­men­tary films

Gilead is going behind the scenes of some of the HIV initiatives it funds through grants in a new film series narrated by the people helming the projects.

The first four films and leaders come from across the US — Arianna Lint in Florida and Puerto Rico, Cleve Jones in San Francisco, June Gipson in Mississippi and Kirk Myers in Texas. Their HIV-focused efforts range from addressing unmet needs of the transgender community to delivering social services and high-quality health care in underserved communities.

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EMA pulls an opi­oid from the 1950s used to treat dry cough

The European Medicines Agency said Friday that it’s pulling from all European markets pholcodine-containing medicines, which are an opioid used in adults and children for the treatment of dry cough and in combo with other drugs as a treatment for cold and flu.

The decision to pull the medicines comes as the EMA points to the results from the recent ALPHO study, which show that use of pholcodine during the 12 months preceding anesthesia is linked to a risk of an anaphylactic reaction related to the neuromuscular blocking agents (NMBAs) used (with an adjusted OR of 4.2, and a 95% confidence interval of 2.5 to 6.9).