After taking his drug pricing argument to the public in the form of a newspaper op-ed, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is moving in Congress to institute price restrictions on medical products created with U.S. taxpayer dollars.
Sen. Sanders and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., have introduced an amendment that, if passed, would “require persons who undertake federally funded research and development of drugs to enter into reasonable pricing agreements with the Secretary of Health and Human Services.”
While Sen. Sanders is keeping the heat on the drug pricing issue, it remains to be seen how much support his amendment will gather with partisanship and gridlock clouding chances for reform in recent years.
According to a Monday release, the lawmakers brought their proposal in response to the Zika controversy with Sanofi. Sen. Sanders previously castigated the arrangement in a New York Times op-ed, urging the Trump Administration to call off a “bad deal” for taxpayers.
It’s an “insane system,” he said, to require taxpayers to fund early research and then pay high prices for a vaccine later if they need protection. The senator’s amendment would require federal agencies and federally funded nonprofits to “secure reasonable pricing agreements from manufacturers before they grant exclusive rights to make drugs, vaccines or other health care products,” according to the release.
At the time, Sanofi responded to the op-ed that it’s not getting something for nothing out of its Army collaboration and that the work could yield a much-needed vaccine. The company’s R&D chief wrote in the same newspaper that Sanofi would owe significant milestones and royalties as part of the licensing proposal.
Those license negotiations are still underway, but Sen. Sanders isn’t sitting around and hoping for a pricing guarantee. He’s introducing the amendment in an attempt to prevent drug companies from making “huge profits on the backs of working class Americans, many of whom cannot afford the medication they are prescribed,” the senator said in a statement.
“The days of allowing Sanofi and other drug makers to gouge American consumers after taking billions in taxpayer money must end,” Sen. Sanders continued.
However, the Sanofi Zika vaccine collaboration with the U.S. Army is far from alone in receiving taxpayer dollars. One drug already on the market the amendment could affect is Pfizer’s Xtandi, which costs $129,000 per year in the U.S. and $30,000 per year in Canada, according to Sen. Sanders.
Specifically, the amendment would require pricing restrictions on drugs, biologics or medical technologies developed with U.S. taxpayer assistance no matter how many industry bidders were involved in the process. Federal government pricing would be based on the lowest amount charged to countries in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development that meet GDP and per capita income thresholds.
The proposal follows another move by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, to try for similar pricing restrictions on U.S.-developed medical technologies, introduced as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Sanders' measure is a proposed amendment to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, according to the release.