Clinton urges FDA, FTC to take action against questionable pharma pricing

Hillary Clinton isn't letting up on drug prices in general and Turing Pharmaceuticals in particular. Following up on tweets, public statements and a campaign ad featuring Turing CEO Martin Shkreli, the Democratic presidential hopeful is urging the FDA and Federal Trade Commission to speed generic drugs to market and crack down on anticompetitive practices in the pharma business.

Hillary Clinton

As Reuters reports, Clinton wrote the two agencies separately to incite them to action, saying her requests were prompted by the "egregious actions of Turing Pharmaceuticals." That company raised the price on its toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim by fiftyfold this summer, and news of that hike heated up an ongoing debate about drug prices.

That news also prompted criticism from Clinton, and biopharma stocks fell as she unveiled proposals to put a damper on drug-price hikes. Turing's Shkreli promised to lower Daraprim's price, though he didn't say how much.

But in her letter to the FDA, Clinton said Turing still hasn't "meaningfully lowered the price" of Daraprim.

To help patients get access to the now-pricey drug, Clinton asked that the FDA speed up copycat versions of the 62-year-old drug, which as of now faces no generic competition despite its off-patent status.

"The FDA should expedite any pending reviews, and encourage applications for review, of other generic alternatives to Daraprim," Clinton wrote.

In her letter to the FTC, Clinton urged the agency to investigate the pharma industry for anticompetitive practices, including price-gouging, and to specifically target Turing as part of an overall probe.

Clinton did acknowledge that the FTC has limited power to address price-gouging in a market with "no competition," Reuters notes, but said the FTC should investigate whether Turing's price-hike move could be considered illegal anticompetitive behavior.

"I believe it would be a great service to the Congress and the Administration if the FTC would study and make recommendations on whether and how our laws might be amended to address this problem," Clinton wrote (as quoted by the news service).

Drug-pricing scrutiny has hit some companies harder than others. News about two big price hikes by Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX) prompted a stock-price slide and new probes by the Justice Department. Already, the company has said it would change its tune. During an earnings call Monday, CEO J. Michael Pearson said his company would veer away from big price increases and stop looking to acquire drugs it considers underpriced.

But the continued attention on pricing decisions--whether they're price hikes on older drugs or high prices on new ones--has put the pharma industry as a whole on the defensive. Though quiet about the issue at first, several execs have since spoken out about Turing's moves, including Biogen ($BIIB) CEO George Scangos, Novartis ($NVS) CEO Joe Jimenez and Teva ($TEVA) R&D chief Michael Hayden.

"We need to change the way we're viewed by the public," Hayden said late last month. "We're doing good. We're really indispensable to the healthcare system. Turing and others don't really help that perspective. … We have an image problem."

- read the Reuters news

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

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