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.”

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech is spear­head­ing an mR­NA vac­cine de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for malar­ia, with a tech trans­fer planned for Africa

Flush with the success of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, BioNTech is now gearing up for one of the biggest challenges in vaccine development — which comes without potential profit.

The German mRNA pioneer says it plans to work on a jab for malaria, then transfer the tech to the African continent, where it will work with partners on developing the manufacturing ops needed to make this and other vaccines.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 112,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

How one start­up fore­told the neu­ro­science re­nais­sance af­ter '50 years of shit­show'

In the past couple of years, something curious has happened: Pharma and VC dollars started gushing into neuroscience research.

Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm has been approved on the basis of removing amyloid plaque from the brain, but the new neuro-focused pharma and biotechs have much loftier aims. Significantly curbing or even curing the most notorious disorders would prove the Holy Grail for a complex system that has tied the world’s best drug developers in knots for decades.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Why is On­col­o­gy Drug De­vel­op­ment Re­search Late to the Dig­i­tal Bio­mark­ers Game?

During the recent Annual ASCO Meeting, thousands of cancer researchers and clinicians from across the globe joined together virtually to present and discuss the latest findings and breakthroughs in cancer research and care. There were more than 5000+ scientific abstracts presented during this event, yet only a handful involved the use of motion-tracking wearables to collect digital measures relating to activity, sleep, mobility, functional status, and/or quality of life. Although these results were a bit disappointing, they should come as no surprise to those of us in the wearable technology field.

Busi­ness­es and schools can man­date the use of Covid-19 vac­cines un­der EUAs, DOJ says

As public and private companies stare down the reality of the Delta variant, many are now requiring that their employees or students be vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to attending school or to returning or starting a new job. Claims that such mandates are illegal or cannot be used for vaccines under emergency use authorizations have now been dismissed.

Setting the record straight, the Department of Justice on Monday called the mandates legal in a new memo, even when used for people with vaccines that remain subject to EUAs.

Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Am­gen bel­lies back up to the M&A ta­ble for an­oth­er biotech buy­out, this time with a $2.5B deal for an an­ti­body play­er fo­cused on PS­MA

Five months after Amgen CEO Bob Bradway stepped up to the M&A table and acquired Five Prime for $1.9 billion, following up with the smaller Rodeo acquisition, he’s gone back in for another biotech buyout.

This time around, Amgen is paying $900 million cash while committing up to $1.6 billion in milestones to bag the privately held Teneobio, an antibody drug developer that has expertise in developing new bispecifics and multispecifics. In addition, Amgen cited Teneobio’s “T-cell engager platform, which expands on Amgen’s existing leadership position in bispecific T-cell engagers by providing a differentiated, but complementary, approach to Amgen’s current BiTE platform.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 112,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: Pan­el of neu­ro­science ex­perts lays out the com­pli­ca­tions with us­ing Bio­gen's new Alzheimer's drug

Treatment of early Alzheimer’s patients with Biogen’s new drug Aduhelm should closely resemble how the drug was studied in its pivotal clinical trials, according to new recommendations from a panel of neuroscience experts led by UNLV’s Jeffrey Cummings.

“Those considering aducanumab therapy should understand that the expected benefit is slowing of cognitive and functional decline; improvement of the current clinical state is not anticipated,” they wrote Tuesday in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, noting that some of their recommendations are more specific or more restrictive than the information provided in the FDA’s prescribing information.

Frank Pallone (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP Images)

House com­mit­tee seeks more from FDA on in­spec­tion back­log, when to restart work on for­eign sites

House Energy & Commerce committee leaders are raising fresh questions about the FDA’s ability to conduct foreign manufacturing site inspections and bring down its growing backlog.

“While we understand that the emergence of COVID-19 required the agency to suspend in-person inspection activities temporarily, we remain concerned that more than one year into the pandemic, the strategy for resuming all inspections and addressing the backlog of delayed inspections remains unclear,” E&C chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and a group of five other bipartisan leaders of the committee wrote to FDA acting commissioner Janet Woodcock.

J&J’s Rem­i­cade — the poster child for how to block biosim­i­lars — fi­nal­ly set­tles Pfiz­er suit

Biosimilars have proven time and again (although mostly in Europe) that competition works to bring down the cost of a once-pricey biologic, and can even expand its use.

J&J’s Remicade, however, has always proven to be an outlier.

Back in 2016, Pfizer won FDA approval for its infliximab biosimilar, known as Inflectra, but when the launch foundered, the company sued J&J, claiming that the company’s plan to block biosimilar competition worked incredibly well. Pfizer even went on to win FDA approval for a second infliximab biosimilar in 2017, known as Ixifi, but decided to never launch it.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 112,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Art Levinson (Calico)

Google-backed Cal­i­co dou­bles down on an­ti-ag­ing R&D pact with Ab­b­Vie as part­ners ante up $1B, start to de­tail drug tar­gets

Seven years after striking up a major R&D alliance, AbbVie and Google-backed anti-aging specialist Calico are doubling down on their work with a joint, $1 billion commitment to continuing their work together. And they’re also beginning to offer some details on where this project is taking them in the clinic.

According to their statement, each of the two players is putting up $500 million more to keep the labs humming.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 112,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.