Pfizer CEO Bourla slams Medicare IRA measure as 'negotiation with a gun to your head'

Amid reports that the pharma industry is preparing a legal challenge to drug price negotiation measures in the Inflation Reduction Act, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla blasted the plan, calling it “negotiation with a gun to your head.”

Speaking Thursday in a live-streamed interview with Reuters, Bourla said he expected the industry to take the government to court.

“But I’m not sure if we’ll be able to stop anything before 2026,” he added. That's the year Medicare negotiations are set to begin under the law.

In March, the U.S. government released draft guidance on how it will implement the IRA. The plans have prompted drugmakers to prepare legal challenges, Reuters reported earlier this week, citing six unnamed industry sources.

In 2026, Medicare will negotiate prices for 10 of the drugs that it spends the most on. Each year, more drugs will be added to the list. But if the sides can't reach a pricing agreement, the government can outright decline coverage in favor of an alternative.

“It’s not negotiation at all,” Bourla said on Thursday. “It’s price setting.”

Bourla also criticized the IRA plan that will allow small-molecule drugs to be negotiated after they have been on the market for nine years—as opposed to 13 for biologics treatments.

“How is it possible to have a law to tell someone not to invest in small molecules, only invest in large molecules?” Bourla aksed. “If the playing field was level, you will go where science is taking you.”

Earlier this week, in an opinion piece in STAT, Eli Lilly chief scientific and medical officer Daniel Skovronsky called the distinction between small and large molecules “nonsensical.”

With his criticism of the IRA, Bourla joins other pharma leaders who say that drug negotiations will force them to cut R&D spending and impact their ability to develop treatments.

In August of last year, soon after the IRA was proposed, Johnson & Johnson CEO Joaquin Duato said that the measures would “have a chilling effect on innovation that will be translated in less new medicines for patients.”

AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez added then that “negotiations” are a misnomer and should instead be called “price controls.”

The critiques come after Pfizer had a record-setting year, becoming the first company in industry history to exceed $100 billion in revenue, thanks largely to $57 billion in sales of COVID-19 products. Two months ago, the company paid $43 billion to acquire oncology biotech Seagen.

“Our acquisition of Seagen is sending a very clear new priority for Pfizer—the battle against cancer,” Bourla said. “Our next moonshot is not to save the world from COVID but it is to make a significant contribution to battling cancer.”