Amid governmental drug price negotiations, the Democratic members of the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) have asked major pharmaceutical companies to answer drug pricing questions at a hearing next year.
The group questioned why the chosen pharma giants charged the US so much more for life-saving drugs compared to other countries.
Chaired by Bernie Sanders, the senate committee has sent letters to the CEOs of Johnson and Johnson, Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck & Co (MSD) inviting them to the hearing to understand how the companies “determine the price of prescription drugs in the United States and throughout the world and how the high price of medicine in our country is impacting the health and well-being of the American people”.
The hearing will take place on 25 January 2024 at 10am Eastern Time. The companies have been given the opportunity to submit a written statement of any length prior to the hearing to be part of the hearing record. At the event, the companies would discuss their testimonies for five minutes, followed by five minutes of questioning from the committee.
The three letters were signed by members of the HELP committee, which includes the Washington Senator Patty Murray and the Pennsylvania senator Robert P Casey Jr. The committee plays a role in matters associated with public health and biomedical research and development.
In a press release announcing the hearing, several drugs were cited as examples of “outrageously high cost of prescription drugs”. It highlighted MSD’s sale of the diabetes drug Januvia (sitagliptin) for $6,000 in the US compared to $900 in Canada and $200 in France. It also mentioned Johnson and Johnson’s blood cancer therapy Imbruvica (ibrutinib), which sells for $204,000 in the US, contrasting a cost of $46,000 in the UK and $43,000 in Germany.
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The US Government has recently been cracking down on “unfair” drug pricing, with the introduction of the Inflation Reduction Act. The act allowed Medicare to negotiate drug prices for the first time, with negotiations happening this year and the next. The Biden Administration released the list of the first ten drugs up for price negotiations in August, including Imbruvica and other big names such as Eli Lilly’s Jardiance (empagliflozin) and Janssen’s Stelara (ustekinumab). The final negotiated prices will go into effect in 2026.