AstraZeneca chief says Europe should pay more for drugs—and the U.S. should pay less

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said in a Bloomberg interview that the world has benefited from high U.S. prices. (AstraZeneca)

President Donald Trump has routinely bashed “global freeloading” on pharmaceuticals, and his administration last month unveiled a plan to try and lower some U.S. drug prices to international levels. Now, a top pharma CEO says he’s right—at least in principle.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said a “readjustment” of prices, to slightly raise European prices and slightly cut U.S. prices, would be warranted.

After all, he said, the world is “benefiting” from the United States’ high prices that have incentivized R&D—and help fund it.

Thing is, he doesn’t know how those pricing tweaks would happen. 

“Whether that can be done, I don’t know,” he said in the interview. “It’s probably unlikely.” Soriot said Japanese prices are a “good benchmark.” 

Soriot’s remarks follow the Trump administration’s plan last month to create an international price index and gradually lower Medicare Part B drug prices. In conjunction with the plan, the HHS released a report that showed, for the top 27 drugs that account for the most in Medicare Part B drug spending, prices in the U.S. are 180% higher, on average, than they are in countries with similar economies. 

RELATED: Trump targets 'global freeloading' with push to match cheaper overseas drug prices 

Other top pharma CEOs voiced their thoughts on the plan during their third-quarter conference calls. Pfizer CEO Ian Read, for instance, said he doesn't think it "makes sense" because the plan involves "importing one country's industrial policy ... into a country that's based on innovation." Allergan's Brent Saunders said the proposal "could have a destabilizing effect on how we think about investing for innovation in our industry."

The debate over international pricing is part of a larger conversation over U.S. prices. Apart from the Part B plan, the Trump administration has been pushing for drug prices in TV ads, and the FDA has been approving more generics than ever in an effort to provide relief. In May, the administration released its pricing blueprint, with a goal to increase competition and negotiation for pharmaceuticals, as well as lower list prices and out-of-pocket costs for patients.

After the midterm elections, industry watchers expect continued attention to pricing and potential new headaches for pharma in the form of investigations and committee hearings.

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