Lobbying campaign killed proposal to set price limits on future coronavirus drugs, vaccines — report
As Congress began drafting the emergency, $8.3 billion spending bill to combat the coronavirus outbreak, Democrats sought to wrap a string around some of that funding.
With $3.1 billion going to support pharmaceutical companies in their R&D efforts against the outbreak, progressive lawmakers wanted to ensure that any drugs or vaccines that emerged from those efforts would be priced affordably, Politico reports. That campaign failed.
The bill Congress passed Thursday and which now awaits a signature from President Trump only reiterates existing legislation covering federal acquisitions. Progressives initially circulated language that would have given the Department of Health and Human Services the power to strip intellectual property from companies that priced their drugs too high. Republicans told Politico that Democrats also pushed to allow HHS to set prices and limit increases to the rate of inflation.
Instead, after a lobbying campaign and successful efforts by Republicans, the bill goes the other direction. It dictates that although HHS may take steps to assure affordability, It “shall not take actions that delay the development” of a vaccine or a drug, taking away a key potential point of leverage.
The Democrats’ proposal comes after years of rhetoric from the left and from the Trump White House on the need to limit drug prices to assure greater access, including a recent House bill that would give the federal government unprecedented ability to negotiate costs.
The language Democrats reportedly offered this past week, though, is not without precedent. From 1989 to 1995, the NIH had the ability to require “reasonable prices” on drugs that were built on discoveries funded by the agency. The law was passed in the wake of a different outbreak, the AIDS epidemic, when the first semi-effective drug AZT — largely developed through federal grants — was priced by a company at $8,000 to $10,000 a year.
By 1995, though, NIH director Harold Varmus was helping spearhead an effort to repeal the law, saying it had discouraged private companies from working with the NIH and its scientists.
Some of the biotechs and pharma companies leading the response have anticipated criticism over pricing. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told Business Insider this week that “there is no world, I think, where we would contemplate to price this higher than other respiratory virus vaccines.” Among the most expensive respiratory vaccines is one for pneumonia, priced at $800 for 4 shots. Bancel said they were unlikely to set a cost that high.
Critics of such proposals argue they limit drug companies’ incentives to respond to a crisis, delaying the development of potentially life-saving vaccines and therapeutics.
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