This May Be Democrats’ Best Chance to Lower Drug Prices - British Herald
November 27, 2021

This May Be Democrats’ Best Chance to Lower Drug Prices

“Patients forgo vacations, they forgo retirements, they forgo what they can buy at the grocery store — it’s just tragic,” said Craig Cole, a hematologist who treats myeloma patients and is an assistant professor at Michigan State University. When he diagnoses the disease in a patient, he always has the patient meet with a social worker, too, to discuss how to pay for the medicine. “You have a cancer, and, yes, you can put the cancer in remission. But you have to live with the specter of financial toxicity.”

The drug companies argue that their high profits enable them to invest in research into new treatments and cures that can be financially risky to develop. Most scholars of the industry agree that a less profitable pharmaceutical sector would be one with fewer new drugs in the future, though they disagree about how few. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a drug price system like one passed by the Democratic House in 2019 would mean about 30 fewer new drugs over the next decade, a reduction of about 10 percent.

“The real fear is you would see venture capital drying up in the small biotech industry, because the risk has gone up significantly,” said Lori Reilly, the chief operating officer at the industry group PhRMA. “The biggest impact is on the patients, quite honestly, who are waiting for someone to develop a therapy for them or someone they love.”

Patients and clinicians dealing with multiple myeloma feel this tension, too. Revlimid can extend life expectancy, but for most patients, myeloma is still a fatal illness. The hope is that a future drug will be an actual cure.

Even as he supports the push for price controls, Dr. Cole also said, “A fear that I have is, what if we do too much?”

Bristol Myers Squibb defends Revlimid’s high price by pointing to its big health effects, and the company’s continuing research into myeloma treatments. “Revlimid’s value is demonstrated by its significant contributions to improved multiple myeloma patient survival rates,” said Caitlin Craparo, a spokeswoman for the company. Her statement noted the company supports efforts to lower costs for patients.

Drug price regulation remains an extremely popular part of the Democratic agenda. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 83 percent of adults said they supported efforts to lower drug prices. When they were told that lower prices might mean fewer new drugs in the future, 82 percent still favored the policy.

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