Probing lawmakers grill Valeant on price hikes

Sen. Bernie Sanders

A pair of lawmakers is taking a look into recent drug price increases--and as part of the investigation, it wants some information from Valeant.

On Friday, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) sent a letter to the Canadian pharma's CEO, J. Michael Pearson, requesting documents and details on the prices for Isuprel and Nitropress--two heart drugs it hiked prices on after grabbing the rights from Marathon Pharmaceuticals.

The letter comes in response to media reports that Pearson's company jacked up list prices for the meds by 525% and 212%: Abnormal heart rhythm treatment Isuprel jumped to $1,346.62 per vial from $215.46, while blood pressure therapy Nitropress shot up to $805.61 from $257.80, The Wall Street Journal reported in April.

Valeant CEO J. Michael Pearson

And now, it's not just Valeant's ($VRX) revenue figures that Cummings and Sanders want. They've asked Pearson for the dates, quantities, purchasers and prices paid for all sales of the drugs; total expenses relating to their sales, including specific amounts for manufacturing, marketing and purchasing of APIs; sales contracts, profit projections and more. And they've asked for it by Sept. 3.

As Valeant spokeswoman Laurie Little told the Journal in April, the company's "duty is to our shareholders and to maximize the value" of the products that Valeant sells. "Sometimes pricing comes into it, sometimes volume comes into it," she said.

Cleveland Clinic chief pharmacy officer Scott Knoer

But according to Scott Knoer, the Cleveland Clinic's chief pharmacy officer, Valeant's jack-ups are making their mark. Spending on the pair of drugs leapt to $8.6 million thanks to the raised price tags, he told the WSJ. And with the clinic under pressure to cut costs thanks to reimbursement changes from healthcare reform, the move dashed its hopes of squeezing $10 million out of drug spending.

Valeant, of course, isn't the only company upping its prices. Horizon Pharma ($HZNP), for one, sent the price of Vimovo pain tablets soaring by 597% after buying the rights from AstraZeneca ($AZN) in 2013.

- read the letter (PDF)

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