Sanders, Welch, Leahy to NIH and HHS: Act Now on Drug Affordability

Firm Sells Taxpayer-Funded Cancer Drug to Americans at 4 Times the Price Offered in Other Countries

WASHINGTON— Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), joined by nine House and Senate colleagues this week, are urging 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, developed with the help of taxpayer dollars, 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.

“The United States government should use every tool available to lower outrageously high prescription drug prices,” Sen. 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,” Rep. Welch said. “Taxpayers foot a hefty bill so companies like Astellas Pharma can conduct research and improve their drugs.  And yet they are 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.”

“It is unconscionable for a drug marketer to price a lifesaving drug out of the reach of Americans who need it,” Sen. Leahy said. “It is all the more offensive when American taxpayers themselves helped pay to develop it.  U.S. law empowers NIH to hold public hearings when taxpayer dollars were involved in a drug’s development, and this outrage certainly merits that step.”

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 drug maker 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.

“It is our collective – NIH, HHS, drug companies, hospitals, physicians, etc. - responsibility and our moral obligation to make sure all our patients have access to the medicines they need at an affordable price,” said President and CEO of Ventral Vermont Medical Center Judy Tarr Tartaglia.

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

To read the letter, click here.



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