USA, 11/9/2006 - For drugmakers, the Democratic congressional election triumph means a return to the political crosshairs.
Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), widely expected to be the new Speaker of the House, has vowed to give the government the power to negotiateâ€”and thus, she hopes, drive downâ€”drug prices for Medicare patients. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), now that they are back in power, "are licking their chops at the prospect of having hearings" on topics such as the sky-high price of some cancer drugs, says analyst Ira S. Loss of Washington Analysis, which assesses the impact of public policy on investors. The industry also may face a higher bar for drug approvals at the Food & Drug Administration.
So it's no surprise that, on the day after the Nov. 7 election, pharmaceutical stocks went down. The AMEX pharma index sank nearly 2%. Losers included everyone from Pfizer and Schering-Plough to Eli Lilly and Merck.
The scrutiny could be intense. In the next Congress, expect hearingsâ€”and well-publicized outrageâ€”over the price of drugs like Genentech's cancer treatment Avastin, which can cost more than $50,000 per year. Expect the Pelosi-led House to quickly act on her promise by passing a measure aimed at driving down the cost of drugs in the Medicare program. Expect more talk about importing cheaper drugs from Canada, and more rhetoric about how the FDA may have moved too fast in the past, allowing risky drugs like Merck's Vioxx on the market. "
Well, we will see. The word is that the D's know the vaunted savings can't be had unless you rob seniors of the choice of drugs they do have. And the "third way" Democrats are likely to propose, requiring comparative effectiveness studies and driving prescribing to the drugs of most "value" will be caught up in methodological, biological and clinical disputes and leave them open to charges that they want to government to practice medicine.
I can see a funny ad around seniors trying to get their medicines from the government supply depot or a costco type place where you have to buy your one drug by the caseload...
"In the meantime, the pharmaceutical industry is raking in the profits that are coming from the Medicare drug benefit. One big winner: Lilly, whose third-quarter sales rose 7%, with profits up 10%, in part on the strength of Medicare prescriptions for its mental illness drug Zyprexa. "
"Raking in?" More seniors are using more medicines. Meanwhile the actual price of Zyprexa (not the retail or manufacturer price) has fallen as a result of price competition. Why shouldn't Lilly prosper? If you sell more, you make more. Check the profit margins of genetic drug firms since Medicare came online, particularly Teva and Mylan, generic drug manufacturers that have had about a 50 percent jump in earnings as a result of patent expirations and a switch away from brand drugs.
Why not make a big stink about those margins or the big profits PBMs and pharmacists will make by selling generic drugs at markup?
If the Democrats want eliminate profit from the prospect of increasing sales volume (sell more, don't increase profits) then the road ahead will be rocky indeed.
If I were "Big Pharma" I would run ads pairing patients with Parkinson's, juvenile diabetes and spinal cord injury with scientists from their companies and with scientists from the small money losing biotech firms they are now investing billions with that are doing work in stem cells and Parkinsons. The scientists would disappear one by one as a narrator talks about how Medicare price controls will make future cures disappear.
Drug companies have a lot at stake. If they don't have the backbone to defend their mission, we will all suffer.