At a news conference before his inauguration, Donald Trump said the pharmaceutical industry was “getting away with murder” because “pharma has a lot of lobbies and a lot of lobbyists and a lot of power.” Trump promised to bring prices down. This was not a flippant pledge. Taking on Big Pharma was a recurring theme in the campaign, when Trump promised to battle high prices and an illogical system.
Now as president, Trump has a perfect opportunity to call out a drugmaker and the system.
The Food and Drug Administration has given its approval for use in the United States of deflazacort, a steroid that people have been importing for $1,200 a year to fight Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Duchenne afflicts about 15,000 young Americans, stealing their ability to walk in adolescence and killing them in young adulthood.
With FDA approval, however, the drug will become illegal to import deflazacort and that monopoly means Marathon Pharmaceuticals can charge $89,000 a year thanks to “orphan drug” rules for rare diseases that will give the company an exclusive patent for seven years. The exclusivity is supposed to repay the investment to get the drug developed and approved in the United States, but in this case, the clinical trial that provided most of the support for the approval was conducted 21 years ago, and the costs of developing the drug were recouped long ago.
The company says it will try to provide the drug free of charge to people with no insurance or those who can’t afford the $89,000. It’s mostly insurance companies that Marathon is targeting to earn big profits. But programs to help those who can’t afford drugs often don’t work as well as promised. Because of the cost, insurance companies might not want to cover deflazacort and could argue that a much cheaper steroid, prednisone, might be just as effective. And if the insurance companies do pay for deflazacort, it will cost us all a fortune in higher insurance prices.
Stung by a public outcry, Marathon has hit pause on its plans. This offers Trump a great opportunity to take on both a profiteering drug company and a senseless set of FDA rules. He should seize it.