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On Drug Costs, “We All have Accountability and Responsibility”

June 21, 2017

The BIO 2017 convention is well underway, highlighting the innovative breakthroughs taking place across the biotechnology industry. This annual gathering of the world’s biotech leaders is also taking a close look at how they can work to ensure breakthrough treatments are accessible and affordable to patients.

This was the subject of an engaging dialogue that took place during a session, entitled, “Our Common Goal: Ensuring Access and Affordability of Innovative Medicines.” Moderated by Ron Cohen, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer of Acorda Therapeutics, the panel discussed the complex ecosystem surrounding drug pricing, as well as steps that should be taken to lower costs and protect innovation.

When asked if drug prices are too expensive, Steven Miller, MD, Senior Vice President & Chief Medical Officer at Express Scripts, responded that “the whole [health care] system is too expensive.”

David Meeker, MD, Executive Vice President at Sanofi Genzyme, said:

Drugs are only 14 percent of health care spending and it has been relatively stable over time. The issue isn’t so much are we spending too much on drugs in the aggregate, it’s are they too expensive for any given individual?”

Jeremy Levin, CEO and board chairman of Ovid Therapeutics, noted that “the complexity of the system is overwhelming.” To tackle costs, he added, “I take the position that, as a CEO of a company, it is my job to see what I can do to alleviate and to improve the system.”

Panelists discussed the need for better communication among all those involved in setting prescription drug prices. This should include earlier communication by stakeholders, even before new therapies have been approved for use.

Rather than wait until a drug is about to enter the market, drug makers, insurers, pharmacists, and others should begin a conversation early on about the new therapy and the patients it is intended to help. As Jeremy Berkowitz, CEO of Optum International, emphasized, there is a need for “early engagement, early discussion.”

Mr. Berkowitz also noted the importance of addressing “perverse incentives” within the system that can increase costs. There are “still not incentives across the system to control costs,” he said. Mr. Levin agreed, adding, “We must incentivize people to focus on innovation.”

Unfortunately, there are external threats to this innovation as well. Dr. Meeker expressed his concern that “absent industry self-regulations then we will be regulated.”

What would this mean for patients and the search for new cures? “There is nothing that will put a damper on the innovative process more than external regulation,” added Dr. Meeker.

Other panelists agreed. Citing a number of troubling policies proposals — including drug importation and government price controls — Dr. Cohen said that these and other harmful ideas “would be ruinous to innovation.”

That is why, as Dr. Levin noted:

All industry must step forward and make decisions because that’s what we can do. … In the absence of true change in the industry, the regulators will take action that will be catastrophic.”

Dr. Meeker cautioned that “this is not going to change overnight,” and Dr. Miller explained that there “is no silver bullet.” Fortunately, industry leaders are already taking action, stepping forward with a set of commonsense, free-market solutions that would provide greater access to affordable medicines. As Dr. Cohen concluded the discussion:

“The lesson is we all have accountability and responsibility. It is up to us to be reaching out to the senior levels of our organizations and trying to get change to happen in a constructive way. In the end, everyone here is in it for the patient, and if they aren’t, they should be because we are all patients too.”