When a single tweet from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sent biopharma shares tumbling last fall, her campaign staff reacted with glee. Soon after, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius cheered Clinton on, too.
Industry watchers know what’s happened since--Clinton has rolled out a series of proposals to control drug prices, and one of her follow-up tweets in August triggered another selloff in biotech shares. Now, thanks to WikiLeaks, we know some of the behind-the-scenes chatter in the Clinton campaign as her pharma-pricing crusade began.
“We have started the war with pharma!!” wrote Senior Policy Advisor Ann O’Leary, on Monday, Sept. 21, 2015 as the candidate’s Sunday tweet was reverberating through the drug industry, according to a WikiLeaks extract first reported by Endpoints News.
Clinton had dispatched the now-famous tweet in response to news that then-Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli had engineered a 5,600% price hike on a toxoplasmosis drug, Daraprim. That hike, along with Shkreli’s defiant defense on Twitter and television afterward, set fire to a drug pricing debate that’s still raging.
Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous. Tomorrow I'll lay out a plan to take it on. -H https://t.co/9Z0Aw7aI6h— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 21, 2015
O’Leary forwarded a USA Today story to Campaign Manager John Podesta. The story cited “a 21-word tweet” from Clinton as the weight dragging down biotech stocks, and the rest of the market with them.
Two days later, in an email to Podesta, Sebelius added insurers into her own high-five to the campaign, but specifically called out drugmaker execs, too. “Good stuff on drugs and insurers. Glad she's taking on Pharma--deaf ears among CEOs and they are just wrong,” Sebelius wrote in a Sept. 23, 2015, email to Podesta.
Sebelilus also was emphatic in her support for Medicare price negotiation, one of the pharma pricing measures Clinton had proposed after her Twitter promise.
“Should remind folks that VA can negotiate for drugs, Governors negotiate for Medicaid drugs, but Medicare, the largest purchaser, is forbidden by law,” Sebelius wrote.
“So seniors pay highest prices in world, and companies take profits, often from discoveries that started with NIH funding--a lose/lose!!!” she added.
Sebelius’ message echoes criticism in Congress as Senate and House committees have investigated a series of price increases, by Turing, then Valeant Pharmaceuticals, and, most recently, Mylan. The pharma industry says the egregious price hikes reported in the media aren’t representative of the rest of the industry, and actions that depress drugmakers’ ability to profit in the U.S. threaten R&D funding and lifesaving innovations. Pfizer CEO Ian Read, for one, has called Clinton’s drug-pricing proposals a disaster for innovation.
Allergan chief Brent Saunders, however, has called on the industry to police itself. In a blog post about biopharma’s “social contract,” Saunders pledged that Allergan would increase prices only once per year, by less than 10%. Some companies--such as Ariad Pharmaceuticals, recently called out for its fourth price hike in 2016--raise prices multiple times each year.
Pfizer CEO calls Clinton drug plan 'very negative for innovation'
Allergan CEO swears off big price hikes in manifesto on pharma's 'social contract'
Hillary's latest drug-price tweet put the fear of government action into biopharma stocks
Amid still-raging EpiPen scandal, Clinton rolls out plan to fight drug price hikes
Novartis CEO predicts drug pricing overhaul in U.S. after the election, whoever wins