FiercePharmaPolitics—Trump and Big Pharma tussle over drug price proposal with 3 months until election

President Donald Trump gives a speech on HRAs
Tensions between President Donald Trump and the pharmaceutical industry are rising as the president reiterates his goal to lower U.S. prices. (White House)

Welcome to the FiercePharma political roundup, where each Monday we’ll highlight developments in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere that could affect drug pricing and how drugmakers operate.

It’s been a busy week in the world of drug pricing, but not because of any major changes to the industry’s pricing power or legislation. Instead, drugmakers and President Donald Trump exchanged barbs over a group of executive orders and the president's aim to lower prices.

The latest back-and-forth started at the end of July, when Trump rolled out executive orders to create discounts for insulin and epinephrine, eliminate rebates, allow drug imports from Canada and other countries and create an index linking U.S. prices to those elsewhere. The industry hit back quickly, but experts said the measures wouldn’t likely bring real change—at least not right away. 

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When Trump unveiled the orders, he said he was set to meet with pharma CEOs last Tuesday, but the meeting never came together. Industry representatives declined to attend, sources told Politico.

“I don't think there is a need for, right now, for White house meetings,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told analysts on a conference call last week. 

On Thursday, Trump escalated the fight with a tweet saying that drug prices “will soon be lowered massively.” He reiterated his stance Saturday with a tweet zeroing in on the pharma industry’s most-hated proposal, the international price index or the “favored nations clause.” 

While his tweets focused on drug companies, the president also blasted "middlemen" during his executive order signing remarks. At the event, he said "in all fairness" to drugmakers, "they’re doing a great job" on vaccines and drugs against COVID-19.

Throughout last week, CEOs for several Big Pharma companies criticized the international pricing index, and some voiced skepticism the government can implement any changes this year. Bourla said Pfizer would reconsider U.S. expansions or possibly cut jobs if the measures are implemented. Plus, the measures “pose enormous distraction” as the industry works to deliver vaccines and drugs for COVID-19, he added. 

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson and GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley said the international pricing index ignores differences between healthcare systems. Plus, Hudson called it a “convenient” topic for the president to discuss during an election year. 

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks, meanwhile, blasted the measure as “horrible policy.” It “sends a wrong message at a time when this industry is working literally day and night to help us all escape from COVID-19,” he said.

While the industry unequivocally opposed the international pricing index, executives did voice more support for eliminating rebates.

RELATED: Moderna's rumored $50-plus price on COVID-19 vaccine draws ire as company touts new animal data 

Meanwhile, as COVID-19 vaccine frontrunners move forward, potential pricing has raised concerns for some lawmakers. Moderna is in discussions to charge between $50 and $60 per course to high-income countries, the Financial Times reported last week. 

In response, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois, told Barron’s that if the report is true, the situation will “represent yet another example of why we must require reasonable pricing of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments that have been developed by taxpayers.” Moderna has already received $955 million in R&D funding from the U.S. government, and Rep. Schakowsky blasted the company for “contemplating how to turn [its] federal funding into sky-high profits.” 

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