The highly anticipated House Oversight Committee hearing on Thursday was not without its fireworks, though beyond the airing of a lot of discontent, few new options for halting drug price increases were brought to the table.
About an hour into the hearing, Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who previously called the increase in price of a toxoplasmosis drug a “very handsome investment,” was escorted out after he used his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid self-incrimination as he’s being tried for securities fraud.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) called Turing a “Ponzi scheme,” after which Shkreli smiled and Cummings said, “It’s not funny, Mr. Shkreli, people are dying.” Shkreli later tweeted after leaving the hearing: “Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government.”
Turing Chief Commercial Officer Nancy Retzlaff did answer questions in the hearing and stuck mostly to the talking points of her former boss, noting that few patients actually pay money out of pocket to acquire Daraprim, which Turing hiked the price of by about 5,000%.
Like Retzlaff, interim CEO of Valeant Pharmaceuticals Howard Schiller reiterated the idea that his company is re-investing the money obtained through these drug price increases in research and development, just like any other pharmaceutical company. Industry group PhRMA, however, has tried to distance itself from Valeant and Turing in recent months.
Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) questioned Retzlaff on money the company spent on fireworks, a yacht and cigar roller for a party, adding, “Don’t try to pretend and tell us that this $750 is justified, when you got a woman who’s got AIDS. And what is she supposed to do, is she supposed to tweet Martin and try to get that for a penny?”
When asked to explain how generics could bring down the prices for some of these drugs – all of which have no generic competition, FDA’s CDER Director Janet Woodcock reiterated much of what she explained in a Senate hearing last week during which she said that there are no current abbreviated new drug applications (ANDAs) in CDER’s backlog for any so-called “first generic” products, which are what most dramatically reduce the price of brand name products.
The idea of expediting the review of such generics was also brought up, though that would mean companies would have to submit such ANDAs.
Few other possible solutions were raised by representatives, though Rep. Steven Lynch (D-MA) explained in a fit of anger that Congress could contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to manufacture drugs that are off patent and which are seeing increased prices.
“We've got a broken market. And there's a real challenge for us to deal with it,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) added.