WikiLeaks shows Clinton pharma attacks sharpened in response to Sanders

Hillary Clinton may be in her last week of battling Donald Trump for the U.S. presidency, but a year ago it was Sen. Bernie Sanders she had to beat for the Democratic nomination and he was making headlines with attacks on pharma prices. An email recently disclosed by WikiLeaks shows a Clinton chief strategist urged taking the issue away from Sanders with a “big, bold aggressive plan to take on this industry.”

Weeks later, a Clinton tweet aimed at Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli over a 5,600% price hike would lead to a stock selloff and thrust her to the front of the drug price issue. But the email reported today by Endpoints News, shows that weeks before that her campaign recognized she needed to hit the industry harder.

In the Sept. 16, 2015, email, Clinton strategist Joel Benenson pointed out that Sanders was getting mileage with his charges that “drug companies are screwing Americans three ways to Sunday and he’s going to put an end to it.” In response, the Clinton plan needed to be sharper, more focused, he said.

“We have a multi-layered plan here that the campaign’s pharma plan seems to focus on transparency a whole lot more than holding drug companies accountable." That strategy, he said, left Clinton open to attacks from Sanders that she wasn’t bold enough.

Instead the missive urges that the campaign attack pharma on direct-to-consumer advertising and for giving European countries big discounts on new drugs while making U.S. consumers pay the full cost.

“Why aren’t we calling for an end to tax deductions for direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs and for sampling to docs?” he asks. “We have to make sure that whatever our plans are here--they are simple, digestible and address a real cost pain point with a clear solution that fixes it."

She did start attacking the industry with more vigor. An earlier disclosed email released by WikiLeaks showed the Clinton campaign figured its “war with pharma!!” got underway when her tweet about the Turing drug price hike solidified her image a pharma fighter. She has kept the topic top of mind since. One of her follow-up Twitter attacks on prices in August triggered another selloff in biotech shares.

While Clinton also got the nomination, Sen. Sanders has not let up on his campaign against pharma prices. Just yesterday he called on the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Sanofi ($SNY), Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Novo Nordisk ($NOVO) colluded on insulin prices, pointing out that insulin price hikes by the drugmakers often happened “in tandem.”