Will the drug-pricing issue fade away under Trump? Allergan's CEO doesn't think so—and he's warning his peers to get ready

Allergan CEO Brent Saunders
Allergan CEO Brent Saunders is urging his pharma peers to limit their drug-price increases.

Make no mistake, pharma. Hillary Clinton may have lost the U.S. presidential election, but that doesn’t mean drug-pricing reforms aren’t on the way, Allergan CEO Brent Saunders says. He, for one, is getting prepared—and he’s urging his industry peers to join him.

As Saunders figures, the drug-pricing issue isn’t won’t be fading away without outspoken price-hike critic Clinton at the fore. And while he acknowledges that “the cost of medicines may not be priority number one for the Trump Administration,” pharma needs to curb its own price-jacking habits, he wrote in a Forbes op-ed Thursday—and it needs to do it now.

“Limit your price increases before we all face the impact of government regulation that stifles innovation and patient care,” he warned.

Allergan has been stressing the importance of action since it rolled out its own “social contract” to patients, under which it pledged to limit price increases. When prices do rise, they’ll do so only once a year, and by a single-digit percentage, the Dublin drugmaker promised in September.

Thursday, he built on that promise, upping eligibility for more than 40 meds covered by its patient assistance program. Allergan will now provide free drugs to eligible patients earning up to four times the federal poverty levels, Saunders said, and—depending on the med—free drugs to eligible patients earning up to five times the federal poverty level.

“Almost 200 million Americans fall below those income levels, many of whom are uninsured or underinsured, and may need our treatments,” he wrote.

Some of Allergan’s Big Pharma peers have already voiced their agreement with Saunders’ sentiment, though none have followed up with a similar vow. “We have not had specific conversations regarding Allergan’s pledge, but the more the industry can self-regulate itself on the cost of medicines, the better we can then discuss the tremendous value these medicines bring to patients and the healthcare system,” Eli Lilly told FiercePharma in a September statement.

Drugmakers have good reason to proceed with caution when it comes to pricing. Over the last year and a half, the industry has seen a handful of companies—Turing, Valeant and, most recently, EpiPen-maker Mylan—take the fall for so-called “price gouging.” But raising the prices of older meds by hundreds of percentage points is hardly a practice that’s been limited to those three players, and nobody wants to be the next to land in the spotlight.

And while Trump may not have gone after “predatory” pricers the way Clinton did—announcing “I’m going after them” in one TV spot that featured a Valeant med—he’s still shown support for letting Medicare negotiate drug prices, a pharma-unfriendly measure that bucks his party lines.

And don’t forget about patients, either, Saunders cautioned. “Let’s not fool ourselves,” he wrote. “The outcome on November 8 didn’t change the fact that many Americans are angry about the rising cost of healthcare and their medicines. This anger will fuel the discussion about affordability well into the future.”