By Mary Stabile
Congress is poised to pass two separate bills designed to bring down drug prices.
House Democrats and Senate Republicans are advancing bills that would set prices on prescription medicines, both directly and indirectly.
The House plan would allow the government to arbitrarily dictate the prices of 250 medicines, reducing drug companies’ revenues by an estimated $1 trillion over a decade.
The Senate’s plan would prohibit drug companies from raising prices faster than the rate of inflation and restructure Medicare’s prescription drug benefit in a way that effectively raises taxes on drug companies. All told, the Senate package would cost biopharmaceutical firms about $100 billion over a decade.
While both chambers have good intentions, the proposed pricing reforms would suppress medical research and, over time, deprive patients of new treatments.
Medical research is a high-risk, high-reward business. Most experimental drugs never make it out of the lab. Close to 90 percent of the ones that do ultimately fail in clinical trials. After accounting for these costly failures, companies spend $2.6 billion, on average, to bring one new medicine to patients.
Researchers rely on a few successful drugs to recoup their development costs and fund future projects. By making drug development far less lucrative, both bills would cause private sector research investment to plummet.
Some lawmakers acknowledge their plans would slash private research budgets. To offset that drop, they hope to reallocate some of the government’s savings to the National Institutes of Health.
But even with this new funding, the NIH won’t be able to replicate the work of scientists at private-sector research companies. The NIH mostly conducts early-stage research into specific diseases and molecules. It lacks the expertise, infrastructure, and funding to build on this research and develop treatments.
Large pharmaceutical companies invested more than $90 billion in U.S. research and development in 2016. Small biotech firms invested billions more. By comparison, the NIH’s annual research budget is less than $40 billion.
Millions of people suffer from debilitating conditions. Fifty million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases that cause a person’s immune system to attack healthy cells, organs, and tissue. Most of these ailments have no cure. And existing treatments often cause severe side effects.
These patients are counting on researchers to produce better treatments and cures. Thankfully, U.S. researchers are currently developing more than 4,500 new treatments for a variety of diseases, including type 1 diabetes, lupus, and heart disease.
By stifling this research, the bills would endanger patients’ health and lives. Let’s hope lawmakers reconsider before they snuff out patients’ hopes for a brighter, healthier future.
Mary Stabile is a patient advocate and healthcare expert who lives in the New York City area.