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Pharma CEOs to testify in Senate drug pricing hearing

  • Top executives at seven major drugmakers, including the CEOs of Pfizer, Merck & Co. and AbbVie, all plan to attend an upcoming hearing in front of the Senate Finance Committee, the companies confirmed to BioPharma Dive, setting the stage for a high-profile confrontation between lawmakers and the pharmaceutical industry over prescription drug pricing.
  • The powerful Senate committee invited seven drugmakers to testify. Merck & Co. and Pfizer were first to confirm attendance of their respective company heads, followed by Sanofi, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AbbVie and AstraZeneca. J&J will send the head of its pharmaceuticals division.
  • Set for Feb. 26, the hearing will take place against a backdrop of renewed focus on drug pricing from the White House and Congress. The issue is high on the agenda for several key lawmakers and for President Donald Trump, who, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, called reducing the cost of prescription medicines a “major priority.”

While congressional scrutiny on drug pricing is nothing new, the prospect of some of the pharmaceutical industry’s highest-profile CEOs testifying on the issue will make for a must-watch event.

In past years, lawmakers have clashed with the chief executives of Mylan, Valeant and, perhaps most infamously, Turing Pharmaceuticals. Pfizer, J&J, Merck, Bristol-Myers, AbbVie, AstraZeneca and Sanofi, however, are standard bearers for the industry in ways those companies were not.

Questions from the committee will likely focus heavily on how these companies price their products. Six of the seven companies recently raisedlist prices for a number of their top-earning drugs — something senators could call out in the hearing.

Last summer, Pfizer was the subject of a public rebuke from President Trump over price hikes the company temporarily reversed. Since then, Albert Bourla took over for Ian Read as the company’s CEO and will be the new face of the pharma at February’s hearing.

Bourla recently claimed pricing would not be a “growth driver” for Pfizer, as the company expects net prices — after rebates — to remain flat in the U.S. this year.

Ken Frazier, Merck’s head, has guided the $200 billion drugmaker since 2011, while Sanofi’s Olivier Brandicourt has led the French pharma since 2015. 

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Giovanni Caforio, meanwhile, is in the midst of a $74 billion buyout of Celgene, which would combine two of the top-selling cancer drugs under one roof. Such market clout could draw the attention of lawmakers concerned over increased pricing power. 

J&J will send the head of its drugs division, Jennifer Taubert, rather than its CEO to better speak to the committee’s concerns around drug pricing. In addition to pharmaceuticals, J&J also has large businesses in medical devices and consumer health.

AstraZeneca, which was last to confirm an executive’s attendance, will send its CEO, Pascal Soriot. 

Senate Finance had previously invited the heads of “several” drugmakers to a drug pricing hearing that took place in January, but each declined, according to statements at the time by committee heads Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

At that hearing, both threatened to more forcefully compel testimony from the companies. Their move to publicly disclose the list of drugmakers invited to the Feb. 26 hearing appears to have successfully upped public pressure, at least on some.

Drug pricing is also high on the agenda of the Trump administration, which over the past four months rolled out plans to require drugmakers disclose list prices in television advertisements, to link Medicare payments on certain drugs to prices paid abroad and to recast how drug rebates are paid in federal healthcare programs.

The issue also featured in Trump’s State of the Union address, in which he called on Congress to act as well.

“It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place,” President Trump said in his Tuesday address. “This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it.”