USA – In a Senate committee hearing, the CEOs of Bristol Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck & Co. faced tough questions regarding the affordability of their drugs in the U.S. market.
Led by Chairman Bernie Sanders and his Democratic colleagues, the panel urged the pharmaceutical leaders to consider reducing the list prices of their top-selling medications to align with international standards, such as those in Canada and Japan.
Despite pressure from lawmakers, the CEOs refrained from committing to price cuts, emphasizing the complexities of the U.S. healthcare system compared to other countries with more centralized regulation.
Robert Davis of Merck & Co. highlighted the broader access to innovative treatments in the U.S., citing the extensive indications for drugs like Keytruda as a factor influencing pricing disparities.
While the executives voiced support for legislative measures aimed at reducing patients’ out-of-pocket spending, such as requiring pharmacy benefit managers to utilize negotiated rebates, concerns were raised about the lack of transparency regarding the impact of these rebates on net prices.
Additionally, the CEOs advocated for legislative changes allowing drugmakers to offer discount cards to Medicare enrollees, which is currently prohibited.
Senators criticized pharmaceutical companies for inhibiting price competition from generic drugs and biosimilars through tactics such as patent filings and rebate agreements.
The issue of life cycle management to prolong drug exclusivity was also highlighted, with Sen. Bill Cassidy arguing that such practices may hinder innovation by prioritizing profit over genuine advancements.
In response to questioning, the CEOs made commitments to not obstruct the entry of generics or biosimilars once primary patents expire for certain drugs.
Merck’s Robert Davis pledged to embrace competition with future biosimilars of intravenous Keytruda, while Bristol Myers Squibb agreed to similar terms for Opdivo.
However, concerns were raised about potential market strategies, such as the development of subcutaneous versions of these drugs, which could extend their market dominance.
Johnson & Johnson’s Joaquin Duato addressed concerns about delays in biosimilar competition for Stelara, asserting that prices are expected to decrease upon its entry to the market in 2025. However, questions remain about the true impact of such delays and the accessibility of more affordable alternatives for patients.