Warren keeps pressure on pharma, this time targeting Amgen and Indivior buyouts

If you thought the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act might prompt Democrats to ease off the pharmaceutical industry, think again.

Late last week, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to put a magnifying glass on a pair of pending Big Pharma mergers. Those are: Amgen’s buyout of rare disease drugmaker Horizon Therapeutics plus Indivior’s acquisition of Opiant and its nasal opioid overdose portfolio.

In a letter sent to the FTC Thursday, Warren flagged concerns about “rampant consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry” as well as potential drug affordability and access shock waves. Warren also pointed to the involved companies’ “long history of corporate price gouging and monopolistic behavior.”

Amgen revealed a roughly $28 billion cash bid for Horizon back in December. With the deal, Amgen stands to get its hands on thyroid eye disease drug Tepezza, chronic gout treatment Krystexxa and Uplizna, a relatively new therapy that treats neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder.

Indivior’s initial $145 million Opiant buyout came about a month earlier in November 2022. With that deal, Indivior is set to obtain a near-approval formulation of anti-overdose drug nalmefene through the acquisition.

In an emailed statement, Amgen said it disagreed with Warren's characterization of the company and its planned Horizon buyout. 

"We have been working cooperatively with the Federal Trade Commission and remain confident there are no anti-competitive aspects of this transaction," a company spokesperson said, adding that Amgen's "commercial, medical, and manufacturing capabilities will make it possible for Horizon’s life-changing medicines to reach many more seriously ill patients."

Indivior did not immediately respond to Fierce Pharma's request for comment. 

As for Warren’s complaints, the senator noted in her letter that recent decades have seen “extensive consolidation” of the pharmaceutical industry. Warren specifically points out that some 60 dominant companies have been whittled down to just 10 between 1995 and 2015. This in turn has spurred higher prices for Americans, plus “decreased innovation,” the senator claims.

Warren isn't the only one with those concerns. At the FTC, officials in 2021 unveiled a sweeping review of their approach to biopharma M&A scrutiny. 

Citing a high number of mergers in the industry in recent years—plus “skyrocketing” drug costs and allegations of anticompetitive conduct in the industry—FTC Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter told reporters it was “imperative that we rethink our approach.” The agency planned an "aggressive" review of proposed mergers, she added.

Warren's letter comes at a time of renewed pricing pressure for the biopharma industry. The Inflation Reduction Act, which passed last summer, limits price hikes in Medicare to the rate of inflation and will eventually give the government the power to negotiate some drug prices. While Warren said the law will provide relief for U.S. patients, “there are additional actions that the administration can take to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and ensure competition in the pharmaceutical market."

And it comes less than a week after Bloomberg reported pharmaceutical companies would likely be at the heart of a series of Democrat subpoenas being lodged in retaliation to House Republicans’ probes into Joe Biden and his administration.

Elsewhere, Moderna recently entered Warren’s crosshairs, too. After Moderna suggested it might charge up to $130 per dose of its COVID-19 vaccine on the private market, Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sent a letter to CEO Stéphane Bancel reminding him that development of the vaccine was facilitated in part by a massive government grant.

Back in December, the senators took Pfizer to task over a similar proposed pricing move.