With backing from cancer bigwigs, VP Biden reportedly eyes drug prices as part of new nonprofit work

Vice President Joe Biden plans to head up a new nonprofit that will work on cancer issues, including pricing, access and innovation.

After finishing eight years as vice president and a stint as Cancer Moonshot guru, Joe Biden plans to head up a new nonprofit to work on cancer issues—and tackling high drug prices is one of them.

Biden, who one year ago mapped the government’s Cancer Moonshot program and who lost his son Beau to brain cancer in 2015, will continue working to advance access and innovation, he told the Washington Post. The new nonprofit doesn’t have a name yet, but Obama Administration officials are calling it the Biden Cancer Initiative, according to the newspaper.

A leading priority? To address high drug prices that have been a topic of regular debate for more than a year. "The researchers, the insurers, all of the major cancer centers … want me to pursue it," Biden told the publication, adding that drug companies “all realize they have a problem."

And it seems that drug prices may be a bipartisan issue heading into 2017. Shortly after winning the White House, President-elect Donald Trump said he’d “bring down” drug prices, a statement that quickly sent biopharma shares south.

Biden's new organization wouldn't be the only one to roll out new strategies for fighting high cancer-treatment costs. The American Society of Clinical Oncologists, for one, introduced a "value framework" to help guide treatment decisions. Docs at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center have their own tool, the DrugAbacus, to conduct cost-benefit analyses for cancer drugs. And pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts introduced indication-specific pricing to promote "clinically superior" drugs.

Just this week, JAMA Oncology authors reported that for 53 new cancer drugs, patient benefits varied widely over older meds, further raising questions about the value of new therapies.

With the Cancer Moonshot, Biden and others sought to break down “silos” in cancer research, and that's work the vice president plans to continue, he told the Washington Post. Bringing even more effective drugs to market would be one way for pharmas to justify the drugs' high price tags.

It’s not clear just how the new administration and new Congress might address high drug costs, but Evercore ISI analyst Terry Haines has said it would likely be as part of an Affordable Care Act overhaul.

And as the pricing debate unfolds in Washington, some drug companies have worked to get out ahead of the issue. Allergan CEO Brent Saunders back in September talked up pharma’s “social contract,” pledging to limit price hikes to single digits. Sure enough, as the calendar turned to 2017, Allergan raised the prices on several of its meds by just below 10%.