This is set to be a turbulent year for the pharma industry, specifically dominated by politics with the US presidential elections fast approaching, said experts at this year’s Biotech Showcase during the JP Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco on January 13. The 2020 US Presidential election ‘is the worst dilemma the pharma industry has faced’, James Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) told the audience during a panel entitled ‘The Upcoming Election and Its Potential Impact on the Biopharma Industry.’

President Trump has long made his feelings clear about the pharma industry, consistently accusing pharma companies of ‘getting away with murder’ with their aggressive pricing strategies that he believes are cheating the US. While he has yet to back up these claims with any serious policies, his now infamous tweets have impacted the share prices of many pharma companies, including Pfizer in July 2018. Recently, he has even gone so far as to implicate that the pharma industry instigated the impeachment against him as payback. As such, if he is re-elected, he may renew and reinvigorate his attacks on the pharma industry.

However, some panel members indicated that their worst-case scenario for the 2020 election would be if US Senator Bernie Sanders won. Veteran Republican Representative James Greenwood told the panel audience that Sanders ‘demonstrates absolutely no apparent respect for what we do and no little…understanding of how we operate.’ While, like President Trump, Sen. Sanders advocates pricing controls, he is considered by some to be far more radical, which could mean intense government interference in the pharma industry if he becomes president.

However, Jeremy Levin, Chairman and CEO of Ovid Therapeutics, believed that the pricing issues facing the industry are a result of its own faults, saying ‘we allowed a whole set of executives to walk in and to start in a way, which is quite remarkable, in an unbridled fashion, to exploit the American economy.’ Levin advocated for a sea change in how the pharma industry views the pricing problem, and said the industry should be the ones to deal with the problem as they created it in the first place, rather than relying on politicians such as Trump and Sanders.

Greenwood challenged this view, saying that the patients’ misguided anger is placing the blame on the pharma industry: “You’re angry, and your employer’s not in the room and the insurer is not in the room. A drug is in the room, and the anger is directed toward it.” Pricing issues are endemic within the entire healthcare culture rather than just the pharma industry, so the pharma industry should not be required to fix the issue, he said. Instead, he advocated leaving the politicians to deal with it, as they can make a difference through appropriate regulations and by placing pressure on the healthcare industry as a whole. Whether the pharma industry or the politicians take the reins over drug pricing, this coming year will result in far-reaching changes that may change the healthcare landscape.

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