Senate Coalesces Around Series of Drug Pricing Bills With Little Impact on Pharma Companies

Regulatory NewsRegulatory News | 27 June 2019 |  By 

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced four bills to the Senate floor, three of which were bipartisan, and all meant to lower the prices of prescription drugs.

The four bills are part of a coordinated push in the Senate and include a larger bill that advanced Wednesday out of the Senate health committee and is expected to be taken up on the Senate floor before the end of July, and another bill that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said he was likely to advance out of the Senate Finance Committee in mid-July.

But Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) also said Thursday that he hopes this is not the end of the Senate’s work on drug pricing, although some think the likelihood that such efforts will have a material impact on pharmaceutical companies is dimming.

Bernstein Research analyst Ronny Gal said in a note on Monday, “It looks increasingly likely that nothing negative will be done to pharma in this Congress as GOP Senators are moving away from proposals with negative industry impact. We suspect that some laws will pass, but they will be primarily directed toward reducing patient participation in drug costs, giving GOP senators coverage preelection that 'something was done.'”

For instance, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bipartisan bill from Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) that had been recently watered down to remove all mentions of the term “patent thicketing,” which is a tactic drugmakers (notably with AbbVie’s Humira) use to block generic versions of their drugs.

Blumenthal, however, said Thursday that he hoped the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would “show real teeth” to crack down on companies abusing their monopoly positions and blocking generic competition.

Gal explained that easy patenting is one of the major reasons for high US drug costs, adding that Republicans in the Senate are unlikely to back a plan from House Democrats that would hurt pharmaceutical companies and allow for direct negotiation of the top 250 drugs for all payers, not just the government.

Another bill from Sens. Grassley and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that advanced from the committee would enable the FTC to deter the filing of sham citizen petitions as part of attempts to interfere with the approval of a competing generic drug or biosimilar. And the other two bills would require the FTC to study the role of intermediaries in the pharmaceutical supply chain and prohibit a patent owner from asserting sovereign immunity as a defense in certain actions before the US Patent and Trademark Office. The latter bill advanced on a party-line vote, with Democrats objecting to how the bill might restrict sovereign immunity.


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