J&J, Merck CEOs dodge subpoenas by agreeing to testify at Senate committee's pricing hearing

With the unusual threat of a Senate subpoena hanging over their heads, the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co. have agreed to join their counterpart at Bristol Myers Squibb in testifying before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).

Friday, the HELP Committee’s chairman, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said J&J’s Joaquin Duato and Merck’s Robert Davis have “reconsidered their positions” and have agreed to join BMS’ CEO Chris Boerner at a committee hearing scheduled for February 8.

Duato and Davis’ cooperation comes shortly Sanders said the HELP Committee would vote to subpoena the CEOs after they declined a previous invitation to talk drug pricing. That subpoena vote has now been called off, the Committee said in a press release Friday.

Sanders’ HELP Committee has already been crusading against steep drug prices over the past year. The committee has already heard testimony from chief executives at Moderna, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi.

While Merck and J&J have now agreed to play ball, the companies have voiced suspicion about the hearing’s true intentions.

The call to testify follows efforts by many large pharmaceutical companies to challenge the constitutionality of the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA’s) drug-pricing provisions in court. Merck was the first company to sue last year, quickly followed by the likes of J&J and BMS.

J&J, Merck and BMS are the only U.S.-based companies with IRA-related litigation pending, lawyers for Merck and J&J have pointed out. 

Merck’s general counsel and executive vice president, Jennifer Zachary, previously described the hearing and invitation to testify as an effort to “single out and punish companies” for their decisions to challenge the drug price negotiation program.

Last week, a J&J spokesperson said that while the company has “deep respect” for the HELP Committee’s work, the drugmaker has “concerns with the hearing as it is currently planned.”