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US politicians form Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force Posted 20/11/2015

On 4 November 2015, democratic members of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform launched the Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force, which its members say will bring about ‘meaningful action to combat the skyrocketing costs of pharmaceuticals’.

Members of the task force Elijah Cummings, Lloyd Doggett, Jim McDermott, Rosa DeLauro, Jan Schakowsky and Peter Welch unveiled the initiative, which is the latest in a series of moves by Democrats to protest against recent staggering increases in drug prices.

The action comes in the wake of recent drug price increases, especially by generics companies Valeant Pharmaceuticals (Valeant) and Turing Pharmaceuticals (Turing). Turing increased the price of its newly acquired 62-year-old parasitic infection drug Daraprim (pyrimethamine) from US$13.50 a tablet to US$750 – a 5,000% price hike [1]. Valeant, on the other hand, in a single day, raised the price of two drugs, Nitropress (nitroprusside) – a vasodilator used to reduce blood pressure – and Isuprel (isoprenaline) – used for the treatment of bradycardia (slow heart rate), by 212% and 525%, respectively.

In their press release the Task Force pointed to a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that 77% of Americans identified the increasing prices of prescription drugs as their number one health concern.

The US Senate is also not taking this sitting down. US Senator Amy Klobuchar has asked the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate pharmaceutical companies for possible antitrust violations in the light of such price increases. While Hilary Clinton has proposed a US$250 monthly cap on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs and other measures to stop what she called ‘price gouging’ by pharmaceutical companies [1].

Senators Sanders and Cummings have also pointed to ‘staggering price increases’ in the range of 390–8,200% across 10 products and asked 14 generics makers to submit detailed information on the reasons for this [2]. This action resulted in the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) initiating an investigation, which will cover prices for the top 200 generics between 2005 and 2014 to determine the extent to which they exceed inflation [3]. However, letters sent to Valeant and Turing by Senators Sanders and Cummings have been rejected by the companies. Valeant said that such information was ‘highly proprietary and confidential’. While Turing said that, after taking legal advice, it was ‘unable to provide certain numbers and data related to proprietary information’.

The Senate’s Special Committee on Ageing will also hold a hearing on drug prices on 9 December 2015. The Senators have requested documents and information from four pharmaceutical companies: Valeant, Turing, Retrophin and Rodelis Therapeutics and will investigate ‘substantial price increases on recently acquired off-patent drugs’.

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References
1. GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. Senator calls for FTC to investigate drug makers for antitrust violations [www.gabionline.net]. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2015 Nov 20]. Available from: www.gabionline.net/Policies-Legislation/Senator-calls-for-FTC-to-investigate-drugmakers-for-antitrust-violations 
2. GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. Investigation into huge price increases for generics in the US [www.gabionline.net]. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2015 Nov 20]. Available from: www.gabionline.net/Generics/General/Investigation-into-huge-price-increases-for-generics-in-the-US 
3. GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. Soaring generics prices come under increased scrutiny [www.gabionline.net]. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2015 Nov 20]. Available from: www.gabionline.net/Generics/General/Soaring-generics-prices-come-under-increased-scrutiny 

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Source: Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force, Ageing Senate, Oversight Committee

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