Biden takes aim at pharma in SOTU speech, vowing to defend IRA from repeal efforts

Since the passage 6 months ago of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—which contained several measures to limit drug prices—President Joe Biden has banged the drum, zeroing in on a popular target.

“We finally beat pharma,” Biden said on Nov. 1, repeating his mantra at a pre-Election Day speech in South Florida.

Tuesday night in his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill, an emboldened Biden promised to quash any effort by Republicans—now in control of the House of Representatives—to repeal the IRA.

“Make no mistake, if you try to do anything to raise the cost of prescription drugs, I will veto it,” Biden said.

“We pay more for prescription drugs than any major country on Earth,” Biden added.

While some parts of the IRA are already in effect, the provision enabling Medicare drug pricing negotiations won't kick in until 2026. That has left some industry watchers to speculate about whether the industry can weaken the law before those negotiations begin.

The embattled Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)—which has lost members AbbVie and Teva since the IRA passed—quickly weighed in on Biden’s address, saying that the new measures have already hurt R&D incentives.

The IRA is “forcing companies to make difficult choices, including shifting focus away from certain types of medicines and discouraging the research that takes place after medicines are first approved, threatening the very research that remains critical to improving outcomes for cancer and other diseases,” PhRMA CEO Stephen Ubl said in a release.

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan, the incoming chair of PhRMA, has targeted an IRA drug negotiation measure which makes a distinction between biologics and small molecules, saying that it will discourage innovation in the latter.

Also during Tuesday's speech, Biden doubled down on efforts to reduce the cost of insulin for patients. One of the provisions of the IRA—which kicked in at the start of this year—was making insulin available for $35 a month for those on Medicare.

Biden wants that cap extended to all who need insulin to control their diabetes, not just seniors on Medicare.

“There are millions of other Americans who are not on Medicare, including 200,000 young people with type I diabetes who need insulin to save their lives,” Biden said. “Let’s finish the job this time. Let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month for every American who needs it.”