Opioids, Politics

Senator Harris comes out swinging against Alkermes and its CEO, attacking an opioid drug franchise

Alkermes has earned a high-profile political foe on Capitol Hill. And the showdown suddenly erupted into a high-stakes battle today aimed at one of the company’s franchise drugs.

Richard Pops

California Senator Kamala Harris today came out swinging at the Waltham, MA-based company — domiciled in Ireland for tax purposes. In a letter to Alkermes  $ALKS CEO Richard Pops, Harris seized on a string of reports in The New York Times and elsewhere claiming that Alkermes assigned sales reps to the courts in an attempt to beat the bushes for bigger sales of its opioid addiction drug Vivitrol.

The Democratic senator — sometimes mentioned as a possible presidential candidate — goes on to demand information on the company’s sales and sales practices, looking into why its revenue has grown 7 times over its 2011 level of $30 million. And she adds that the campaign by Alkermes has caused the system to overlook “cheaper and more thoroughly studied treatments” that have been “stigmatized and marginalized.”

Alkermes shares are down 4% Monday afternoon.

Late Monday, Alkermes responded to a query from me, disagreeing with Harris and touting its “disruptive approach that challenges the treatment status quo….Alkermes is focused on ensuring that patients, healthcare professionals and criminal justice officials are educated on Vivitrol and believes that patients should have access to all medications. ”

Harris’ attack centered on claims that Alkermes has been cashing in on the nationwide opioid crisis, which has claimed thousands of lives. And repeated claims the company engaged in an expensive lobbying campaign to help smooth its path.

Sen. Kamala Harris

The senator wants a laundry list of information, including a list of the jails and prisons where Alkermes has been handing out samples for free as well as details on the speakers’ bureau used to promote the therapy.

Pops, a soft-spoken pharma exec who’s been openly critical of the way some industry leaders have priced their products, would seem to be an unlikely subject for this attack. But Harris also enlisted some experts in the assault.

“Alkermes has taken unethical drug promotion to new depths by enlisting judges, law enforcement personnel, and legislators to favor Vivitrol over proven treatments,” said Adriane Fugh-Berman, professor, department of pharmacology and physiology, Georgetown University Medical Center, in a statement. “Alkermes’ actions undermine public health.”

Alkermes is just the latest in a lineup of prominent biopharma companies to draw the ire of lawmakers and earn the hot seat in Washington, DC. Allergan CEO Brent Saunders has most recently held the role of poster child for industry reform after enlisting a Mohawk tribe to help protect its patents on Restasis. And they both follow Mylan, Marathon and imprisoned biotech bad boy Martin Shkreli, which have drawn claims of price gouging.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
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Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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