Big Pharma’s New Popularity Could End Prescription Drug Reform

For decades, few industries in America have been as unpopular as Big Pharma. It’s easy to demonize because prescription drugs cost a lot more in the United States than in other countries, despite the industry making big profits every year. A 2019 House Ways and Means Committee report that found asthma drug Dulera costs $ 23.95 per dose in the United States, but costs an average of 49 cents in other countries, sparked a great indignation. The same is true of the 2015 decision by Turing Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli to increase the price of the antiparasitic drug Daraprim from $ 13.50 to $ 750 per pill after Turing obtained its license to manufacture.

At the same time, critics scoffed at claims by drug companies that they need big profits to fund breakthrough drug research, noting how much companies have spent to develop anti-baldness drugs and other treatments that aimed more at human vanity than saving lives. In 2019, The New Republic reported that companies were actually spending significantly more on marketing and lobbying than on drug development.

Nonetheless, for decades, too, efforts to cap prescription drug prices came to naught because so many Republican and Democratic lawmakers accepted the argument that Big Pharma needed the big bucks to fund research. . They were also certainly influenced by generous contributions to the campaign.

Yes, Congress has passed laws that allow Americans to order cheaper drugs from Canadian suppliers. But that hasn’t happened yet, at least legally. It was only in the final months of the Trump administration that the Department of Health and Human Services issued rules allowing such importation – and the rules were quickly tied in court with a Big Pharma lawsuit. In July, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to clear the way for Canadian drugs. But it’s unclear when the legal challenge will be resolved.

Now, understandably frustrated, a large majority of Congressional Democrats have endorsed the prescription drug reform plan Biden unveiled in August. Here’s how Vox explained it: “The bill includes a plan for Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies that would set a cap on what Medicare would pay for certain drugs: no more than 120% of what many others pay. rich countries. Pharmaceutical companies that did not participate in the negotiations would be subject to a severe excise tax. “

It is not as drastic as what senators like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders – and many Americans want – want. But it’s still the kind of major change Big Pharma has long been able to fight. After Biden’s announcement, the chance that his plan would be incorporated into a budget reconciliation bill that could go through a simple majority vote seemed strong.

No more. Unless there are changes, it looks like enough Democrats – including San Diego Rep. Scott Peters – will oppose the measure to kill her. Peters accepts the argument of the many biotech companies in the region that this would result in such a loss of revenue that it would limit research.

But overall, there has also been a huge development benefiting Big Pharma: Americans whose lives may have been saved by three free and historic COVID-19 vaccinations that were rapidly developed are much less likely to buy the old stereotypes that drug companies are more interested in offering a better wrinkle remover than injections that prevent cancer or the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In September 2019, a Gallup survey showed Big Pharma had become America’s most hated industry. But this year, two rival pollsters said that sentiment was gone. The Harris poll indicated that the approval rate for the pharmaceutical industry was 60% in May and 56% in July. Progress data showed similar results in April.

And the good news for Big Pharma doesn’t end with the three COVID-19 jabs: There has been great progress on a variety of new treatments for deadly diseases.

Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics have developed an antiviral pill called molnupiravir that tests show halves the risk of hospitalization or death for people newly diagnosed with COVID-19 – a potentially gigantic development.

Using the pioneering mRNA technology that makes Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 injections so effective, scientists at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center are now in phase two of a clinical trial that holds great promise for potency. prevent recurrence in old cancer patients.

In August, the Wall Street Journal detailed the evidence that older people receiving COVID-19 vaccines may reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, as the injections appear to “generate a systemic immune response that can reduce inflammation in the brain, resulting in neural loss and cognitive decline.

Locally, Scripps Research reported that an initial clinical trial using a vaccine to prevent HIV created with mRNA has produced “promising results.”

Big Pharma is on a roll without real parallel in the history of mankind. That this is happening just as he faces the most profound threat to his American business model to date is a coincidence for ages.

Reed is associate editor of the editorial and opinion section. Column archive: Twitter: @calwhine. Email:

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