Lawmakers to NIH and HHS: Act Now on Drug Affordability

WASHINGTON, March 28 - A group of Senate and House lawmakers led by Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), co-chairs of the Prescription Drug Taskforce, as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), today urged the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health to step in to lower the cost of a prostate cancer drug, Xtandi, which costs four times more in the United States than in other major countries.

“When Americans pay for research that results in a safe and effective drug, an unreasonably high cost should not limit their access to it. New treatments are meaningless if patients cannot afford them,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and NIH Director Francis Collins.

In the letter, the members called on NIH to hold a public hearing to consider overriding the patent on Xtandi to make the drug available at a lower price. Under current law, NIH can take this step if federal funds supported a drug’s development and the company is selling it at an unreasonably high price.

Xtandi was developed at the University of California, Los Angeles, through taxpayer-supported research grants from the U.S. Army and NIH. The medication, which is sold by Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma, has an average wholesale price in the U.S. of more than $129,000. It is sold in Japan and Sweden for $39,000 and in Canada for $30,000.

“We do not think that charging U.S. residents more than anyone else in the world meets the obligation to make the invention available to U.S. residents on reasonable terms,” the members wrote.

Sanders, Doggett and Welch were joined by Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as well as Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).   

“When Americans pay for research that results in a pharmaceutical, that drug should be available at a reasonable price,” said Doggett, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Human Resources of the House Ways and Means Committee and co-chair of the House Democratic Caucus Prescription Drug Task Force. “The Administration has said it is prepared to use its existing authority to address this problem on a case-by-case basis; it should do so now with Xtandi. An unaffordable drug is 100 percent ineffective. Americans shouldn’t have to choose between their lives and their livelihoods on this and many other outrageously priced medications.” 

“The United States government should use every tool available to lower outrageously high prescription drug prices,” Sanders said. “NIH has the power to stop this blatant profiteering and put the pharmaceutical industry on notice that the era of charging unconscionable prices must end.”

“Pharmaceutical companies provide good drugs that are life-saving and pain-relieving, but their prices are killing us,” Welch said. “Taxpayers foot a hefty bill so companies like Astellas Pharma can conduct research and improve their drugs.  And yet they charged substantially higher prices than patients in other countries for they very drugs produced by that research. The NIH has the authority to step in to end this price gouging and should do so as soon as possible.”

“The rising costs of prescription drugs have left families throughout Minnesota and the entire country with the impossible choice of either buying their medications or paying their bills,” said Franken, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “Drug prices are out of control, and I believe we need a comprehensive plan to address this growing problem. One step we can take is to have the Obama Administration crack down on price gouging and use its authority to ensure access to important medications.”

To read the letter, click here.