[Ip-health] WSJ: Rising Drug Costs to Be in Focus at Congressional Hearing

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Sun Dec 6 04:39:23 PST 2015



Rising Drug Costs to Be in Focus at Congressional Hearing

Valeant, Turing Pharmaceuticals and other companies have been under fire
over rising drug prices

Dec. 5, 2015 5:30 a.m. ET

Dramatic price increases for several medicines are scheduled to be the
subject of a congressional hearing in the coming week.

Companies including Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and Turing
Pharmaceuticals AG have been under fire this year from doctors, patients
and lawmakers over rising drug costs. Such increases have prompted
investigations by congressional committees, and House Democrats have
established a task force to probe drug pricing. On Wednesday, the Senate
Special Committee on Aging is scheduled to hold a hearing further exploring
the matter.

The committee has been examining a new route that some drug companies have
used to quickly boost sales, without a costly investment in research: Scoop
up the rights to drugs already on the market and then drastically raise
their prices.

The hearing aims to explore the roots of such price jumps, their impact on
patients’ access to the drugs and “how current regulations and public
policy may contribute to this problem,” the committee said.

Experts from Johns Hopkins University, University of Utah Health Care and
the University of Alabama at Birmingham are among those scheduled to

“There’s a line at which these huge price increases for prescription drugs
go from rewarding innovation to price gouging and this hearing will set the
stage for an examination of whether that line is being crossed. We’ll hear
from experts about why these huge price spikes are occurring and what this
looks like for patients and providers on the front lines,” said Sen. Claire
McCaskill (D., Mo.), the Aging committee’s ranking member.

Among the price increases that have caught the committee’s attention are
hikes of 525% and 212% that Valeant took for two cardiac-care drugs the day
the company secured the drugs’ rights early in the year, the subject of a
Wall Street Journal article in April.

Last month, the committee asked Retrophin Inc. to provide documents about
its licensing the rights of a kidney-disease drug Thiola and then
increasing the drug’s priceto $30 a tablet, from $1.50.

Likewise, Turing was asked for documents and other information about how it
bought the rights to a half-century-old antiparasitic drug called Daraprim
in August and thenupped the price more than 50-fold to $750 a tablet.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted that the Daraprim
increase was “price gouging.”

Meantime, attention on Valeant’s drug pricing led to examination of its use
of a mail-order pharmacy that helped patients get the company’s more
expensive skin drugs.

Such public scrutiny has prompted drug companies to announce changes to
their pricing practices.

Valeant’s CEO Michael Pearson has said the company will probably “pursue
fewer, if any, transactions that are focused on mispriced products.” The
company also has formed a board committee to look at its relationship,
which it is terminating, with the mail-order pharmacy.

“We are cooperating with the committee’s review, including providing
documents they requested,” said Laurie Little, a Valeant spokeswoman.

Last month, Turing said it would take several steps to cut the cost of
Daraprim, including offering discounts of as much as 50% to hospitals.

Turing didn’t comment on the hearing. Asked about the criticism made by
politicians, Turing CEO Martin Shkreli said at the Forbes Healthcare 2015
Summit this week: “Politicians love to beat up on guys who seem to be
public enemies, if you will. That’s a great way to get elected.”

In September, the Purdue Research Foundation bought back the rights to
tuberculosis drug Cycloserine that Rodelis Therapeutics had acquired and
then increased in price to $10,800 for 30 pills, up from $480. The
foundation then cut the price of a 30-pill blister pack to $1,050.

Rodelis didn't respond to a request for comment, while Retrophin said it is
cooperating with the Aging committee.

—The Week Ahead looks at coming corporate events.

Write to Jonathan D. Rockoff at Jonathan.Rockoff at wsj.com

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