Right af­ter Trump blamed high drug prices on cam­paign cash, drug­mak­ers gave more

“The cost of med­i­cine in this coun­try is out­ra­geous,” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said at a ral­ly in Louisville, Ky., two months af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion. He went on about how iden­ti­cal pills have vast­ly low­er price tags in Eu­rope.

“You know why?” the pres­i­dent asked, be­fore spread­ing his hands wide. “Cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions, who knows. But some­body is get­ting very rich.”

It was March 20, 2017.

The next day, drug­mak­ers do­nat­ed more mon­ey to po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns than they had on any oth­er day in 2017 so far, ac­cord­ing to a Kaiser Health News analy­sis of cam­paign spend­ing in the first half of the year re­port­ed in Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion fil­ings.

Eight phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees made 134 con­tri­bu­tions, spread over 77 politi­cians, on March 21. They spent $279,400 in all, show­er­ing Re­pub­li­cans and De­moc­rats in both leg­isla­tive bod­ies with cam­paign cash, ac­cord­ing to FEC fil­ings. The sec­ond-high­est one-day con­tri­bu­tion tal­ly was $203,500, on June 20.

Bren­dan Fis­ch­er, who di­rects elec­tion re­form pro­grams at the Cam­paign Le­gal Cen­ter, said he found the tim­ing of the con­tri­bu­tions in­ter­est­ing: “I think it’s en­tire­ly pos­si­ble that the drug com­pa­nies sought to cur­ry fa­vor with mem­bers of Con­gress in or­der to head off any sort of po­ten­tial at­tack on their in­dus­try by the press or by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.”

Dur­ing the Louisville ral­ly, Trump al­so promised to low­er drug prices, and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal stocks tum­bled af­ter­ward.

Al­though drug in­dus­try PACs have dif­fer­ent struc­tures and pro­to­cols, they are equipped to mo­bi­lize quick­ly to dis­perse funds to leg­is­la­tors.

“Writ­ing a check doesn’t re­quire much be­yond putting pen to pa­per,” Fis­ch­er said.

FEC records show Mer­ck’s PAC led the way that day, do­nat­ing $148,000 to 60 can­di­dates on March 21. House speak­er Paul Ryan re­ceived three max­i­mum con­tri­bu­tions to his var­i­ous PACs from the drug­mak­er, to­tal­ing $15,000. Be­hind him with $7,500 was Sen­a­tor Tom Carp­er (D-Delawre), who sits on the Sen­ate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee.

Mer­ck spokes­woman Claire Gillep­sie said the con­tri­bu­tions were “not tied to spe­cif­ic events.”

“De­ci­sions on con­tri­bu­tions are made at the be­gin­ning of a cy­cle and are ap­proved by a con­tri­bu­tions com­mit­tee,” she said. A White House of­fi­cial re­ferred re­quests for com­ment to the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, which did not re­spond.

Com­pa­nies may do­nate funds or lob­by ahead of im­pend­ing leg­isla­tive is­sues and ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, or they may re­act to some­thing a politi­cian says.

“Pres­i­dents get a lot of at­ten­tion to what they say,” said for­mer con­gress­man Lee Hamil­ton, who found­ed the In­di­ana Uni­ver­si­ty Cen­ter on Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Gov­ern­ment af­ter three decades in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. “[Com­pa­nies] have to re­act to that and de­fend the drug prices.”

Over­all, FEC records show Mer­ck spent $242,500 on cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions and $3.7 mil­lion on lob­by­ing in the first half of 2017.

The drug­mak­er, which makes di­a­betes pill Janu­via, can­cer drug Keytru­da and shin­gles vac­cine Zostavax, re­spond­ed to out­rage over drug prices ear­li­er this year by re­veal­ing on its web­site that the av­er­age list prices of its drugs in­creased from 7.4 per­cent to 10.5 per­cent each year since 2010. Mer­ck said dis­counts and re­bates al­so in­creased, mean­ing it took home less mon­ey. But Thom­son Reuters point­ed out that the price in­creas­es out­paced in­fla­tion.

FEC records don’t in­di­cate why a com­pa­ny do­nat­ed to a politi­cian or what that con­tri­bu­tion led to, but when House De­moc­rats ac­cused Con­gress­man Ja­son Chaf­fetz (R-Utah) of fail­ing to sched­ule a hear­ing on pre­scrip­tion drug price hikes in 2015, The In­ter­cept­point­ed out that the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try had been among Chaf­fetz’s top cam­paign con­trib­u­tors.

Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal lob­by­ing dol­lars have al­so swelled in 2017, Kaiser Health News pre­vi­ous­ly re­port­ed. In their dis­clo­sures, drug com­pa­nies list­ed tax re­form and drug pric­ing among is­sues on which they lob­bied Con­gress.

March 21 was al­so the date of the Na­tion­al Re­pub­li­can Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee’s an­nu­al fundrais­ing din­ner, fea­tur­ing Trump as keynote speak­er. The event, which rais­es mon­ey for House Re­pub­li­cans, drew a record-break­ing $30 mil­lion from a va­ri­ety of in­dus­tries, the NR­CC re­port­ed.

But on that day, drug­mak­ers al­so gave gen­er­ous­ly to De­moc­rats and sen­a­tors, ac­cord­ing to FEC fil­ings.

Pfiz­er and No­vo Nordisk PACs do­nat­ed $76,900 and $38,500 on March 21, re­spec­tive­ly, to sev­er­al dozen can­di­dates on March 21, ac­cord­ing to their fil­ings. Five ad­di­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal PACs spent be­tween $1,000 and $5,000 on con­tri­bu­tions that day.

The com­pa­nies say the tim­ing was co­in­ci­den­tal. A No­vo Nordisk spokesman said the March 21 con­tri­bu­tions from its PAC had been sched­uled in ad­vance “and in no way were tied to any spe­cif­ic state­ment.”

Pfiz­er spokes­woman Sharon Castil­lo said it takes three to four weeks to or­ches­trate and ap­prove a PAC con­tri­bu­tion.

“Pfiz­er’s po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions to can­di­dates and elect­ed of­fi­cials from both par­ties are led by two guid­ing prin­ci­ples — pre­serve and fur­ther the in­cen­tives for in­no­va­tion, and pro­tect and ex­pand ac­cess to med­i­cines and vac­cines for the pa­tients we serve,” Castil­lo said.

Pfiz­er’s PAC do­nat­ed more than any phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal PAC in the first half of 2017, con­tribut­ing $418,400 in all — near­ly 70 per­cent more than the first six months of the 2015 elec­tion cy­cle, ac­cord­ing to FEC records. In Feb­ru­ary of this year, the com­pa­ny’s CEO was among sev­er­al ex­ec­u­tives from drug­mak­ing firms and oth­er glob­al com­pa­nies to pen a let­ter to Con­gress in sup­port of tax re­form. In De­cem­ber 2016, Pfiz­er re­ceived a let­ter from the Sen­ate Spe­cial Com­mit­tee on Ag­ing, ask­ing it to ex­plain its price in­creas­es for the opi­oid over­dose re­ver­sal drug, nalox­one.

“Pfiz­er is com­mit­ted to ad­dress­ing the pre­ven­tion, treat­ment and ef­fec­tive re­sponse to the grow­ing opi­oid abuse in the Unit­ed States,” Castil­lo said, adding that the com­pa­ny is do­nat­ing up to 1 mil­lion nalox­one dos­es and $1 mil­lion in grants to­ward opi­oid ad­dic­tion aware­ness ef­forts.

No­vo Nordisk has spent $178,000 on cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions so far this year, or near­ly four times more than it spent the first six months of 2015, ac­cord­ing to its fil­ings with the FEC. The com­pa­ny is one of the top three in­sulin mak­ers, and in Ju­ly, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) sent the com­pa­nies let­ters ask­ing them to jus­ti­fy their price in­creas­es. In No­vem­ber, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Eli­jah Cum­mings (D-MD) asked the Jus­tice De­part­ment and the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate the in­sulin mak­ers for pos­si­ble price col­lu­sion. The com­pa­nies have de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

“We’re cer­tain­ly aware of pol­i­cy­mak­ers’ con­cerns about the price of in­sulin, and we’re com­mit­ted to col­lab­o­rate with all those in­volved in the health­care sup­ply chain to en­sure pa­tient ac­cess,” said No­vo Nordisk spokesman Ken In­chausti.

“From the pub­lic record, you can’t tell for sure” what prompt­ed the spike in po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions from phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, said Tony Ray­mond, a for­mer an­a­lyst at the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion who found­ed Po­lit­i­cal Mon­ey Line to track cam­paign fi­nance. The PACs could have been “killing two birds with one stone” by do­nat­ing to leg­is­la­tors across the board on the night of the NR­CC fundrais­er, or they could have been re­spond­ing to what Trump said.

“We’re talk­ing about a cou­ple phone calls and then they could couri­er a check over to some­one,” he said.

By Syd­ney Lup­kin and Eliz­a­beth Lu­cas. Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed at Kaiser Health News, a na­tion­al health pol­i­cy news ser­vice that is part of the non­par­ti­san Hen­ry J Kaiser Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion.

A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 59,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 59,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 59,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.

Zachary Hornby. Boundless

'A fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies': ARCH-backed Bound­less Bio flash­es big check, makes big­ger promis­es in de­but

It was the cellular equivalent of opening your car door and finding an active, roaring engine in the driver seat.

Scientists learned strands of DNA could occasionally appear outside of its traditional home in the nucleus in the 1970s, when they appeared as little, innocuous circles on microscopes; inexplicable but apparently innate. But not until UC San Diego’s Paul Mischel published his first study in Science in 2014 did researchers realize these circles were not only active but potentially overactive and driving some cancer tumors’ superhuman growth.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 59,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Mer­ck helps bankroll new part­ner Themis' game plan to fin­ish the chikun­gun­ya race and be­gin on­colyt­ic virus quest

As Themis gears up for a Phase III trial of its chikungunya vaccine, the Vienna-based biotech has closed out €40 million ($44 million) to foot the clinical and manufacturing bills.

Its heavyweight partners at Merck — which signed a pact around a mysterious “blockbuster indication” last month — jumped into the Series D, led by new investors Farallon Capital and Hadean Ventures. Adjuvant Capital also joined, as did current investors Global Health Investment Fund, aws Gruenderfonds, Omnes Capital, Ventech and Wellington Partners Life Sciences.