UPDATED: Clinton targets pharma's 'predatory' pricing with new campaign ad featuring Valeant

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has turned on pharma again with a new ad, dubbed "Predatory," that features a Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX) price hike. The TV commercial is scheduled to start running Tuesday, as millions of voters are expected to cast their ballots in a dozen state primaries.

The ad includes footage from a Jan. 28 town hall meeting, where a woman in the audience complained of an enormous increase in the cost of her migraine treatment. When she began taking the shots in the early 1980s, they ran $18 each; now, she said, they cost $1,473.

"The company [that sells the drug] is called Valeant Pharmaceuticals," Mrs. Clinton responds in the ad. "I'm going after them. This is predatory pricing and we are going to make sure it is stopped."

It's Clinton's latest sally against pharma and its pricing policies, which have been under intense scrutiny over the past 6 months. Clinton herself helped touch off the debate with a tweet criticizing then-Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli and his now-infamous 5,000%-plus price hike on the toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim.

"Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous. Tomorrow I'll lay out a plan to take it on," Clinton tweeted after news of the price hike broke; she later unveiled proposals to put a damper on price hikes, including Medicare price negotiation and R&D cost disclosures. Biotech shares plummeted.

Clinton's new ad will run in states with upcoming primaries, her campaign said, with Nebraska, Kansas and Michigan spots starting Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Valeant's starring role in the ad is the latest in a flurry of bad news for the drugmaker, which yanked its 2016 guidance, delayed its fourth-quarter earnings report and disclosed a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, all since Sunday. The drugmaker said last week it would restate its earnings for 2014 and 2015 after uncovering accounting problems related to its former specialty pharmacy Philidor. Valeant's dealings with that pharmacy, which the company cut loose last year, triggered a stock sell-off and a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York's Southern district.

On Tuesday, Valeant updated a statement about the migraine drug in question, saying that the company raised the price as generic competition shrank the size of its market. "Whenever the sales volume of a drug declines, manufacturers must consider pricing adjustments to keep production of the drug viable," the company said. "Patients are able to choose generic versions of the drug, however, at significantly lower prices."

The company also noted that it had reached out to the young woman who appears in the ad to see if she might qualify for one of its patient assistance programs. The woman said her insurance covers the drug and her out-of-pocket share isn't significant for her.

Valeant has been called to account for its price hikes by lawmakers repeatedly over the past several months. Howard Schiller, a board member and former CFO who served as interim CEO while Michael Pearson was out on medical leave, appeared at a congressional hearing earlier this month to defend the company's actions and outline recent changes. Among those changes: A shift away from buying companies and their drugs to raise prices and increase revenue, previously one of its common tactics.

Though Valeant has become something of a poster child for egregious price hikes, it's far from the only drugmaker to rely on price increases to grow sales of its products. A recent DRX study found that 60 drugs had doubled in price over the past year, and 20 had more than quadrupled. Much more common, however, are smaller but repeated price increases that drive up the cost of meds by large margins over a number of years. More than 400 drugs had gone up by more than 9.9% just since the beginning of 2015, DRX said, including commonly used meds such as AstraZeneca's ($AZN) Crestor and Pfizer's ($PFE) Viagra.

- check out the ad
- read the latest statement from Valeant
- see the WSJ post (sub. req.)

Special Reports: 10 big brands keep pumping out big bucks, with a little help from price hikes | The top 10 most expensive drugs of 2013

Editor's note: This story was updated with a new statement from Valeant.

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