Even before a Clinton concession speech, Pharma stocks were hopping and Wall Street saluting over a Trump administration. No pesky price regulation over drugs like EpiPen! No pesky safety regulation over blood thinning drugs like drug Xarelto, linked to 500 deaths. No speed bumps when Pfizer et al seeks to dodge US taxes by incorporating overseas — the same taxes that fund their drugs in Medicare, TRICARE and other US programs.
Of course, Pharma did not need a Trump presidency. Its profit party began in earnest with the nomination and confirmation earlier this year of Robert Califf as FDA Commissioner despite financial links to 23 Pharma companies including Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Merck, Schering Plough and GSK according to a statement on the website of Duke Clinical Research Institute which he directed. In disclosure information for an article in Circulation, Califf also lists financial links to Gambro, Regeneron, Gilead, AstraZeneca, Roche and other companies and equity positions in four medical companies. Califf “served as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for Genentech,” said the Medscape website. This is an FDA Commissioner?
In the past, someone so heavily funded by industry would not be considered for a government position regulating that very industry. Yet on PBS, Califf saw no problem with doctors and researchers receiving Pharma money and actually thought it desirable. “Many of us consult with the pharmaceutical industry, which I think is a very good thing,” he told host Susan Dentzer.
Two government institutes are also happily feeding the Pharma beast. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), says the institute is looking to Pharma to find a “vaccine” for drug addiction. What? Shouldn’t Volkow know, as head of the Institute, there is no “cure” or vaccine for addiction — that it is widely viewed as a physical, psychological and spiritual disease? Especially as opioid addiction-related deaths number in the thousands each year? Has she ever talked to Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy who, as an addict himself, advocates non-drug, non-Pharma, peer treatment for addiction? And shouldn’t NIDA replace the very dated term “drug abuse” with the non-judgmental term “addiction”?) Animal lovers will be appalled at what Volkow has done to primates in the lab only to conclude that maternal drug use affects offspring. No sh*t, Volkow.
Under the leadership of industry-friendly Thomas Insel, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has also been feeding the Pharma beast. Non-drug research is no longer even fundable, lamented a recent New York Times editorial. Insel, an early proponent of SSRI antidepressants which he said worked better and faster than non-drug psychotherapy, left government to work at a billion dollar, semi-secret private venture between Google and Pharma last year that few are even aware of. The CEO of the new Google life sciences venture is former Genentech chairman Art Levinson. Insel, while NIMH director, said that not enough toddlers were on stimulants for ADHD even as the nation was aghast at how many children are dosed.
As Trump moves toward the Oval Office, many feel his election does not represent popular sentiment — the same disconnect seen with Pharma. Public anger at Pharma and its outrageous prices is at a peak but regulatory firewalls are evaporating and alarming conflicts of interest tolerated.
In February a smirking Martin Shkreli, founder of Turing Pharmaceuticals, refused to explain or defend his price hike of the anti-parasitic drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 on the Hill, a price hike that could put the life-saving drug out of reach for some. With clear derision for regulators and the public itself, he tweeted that lawmakers were “imbeciles” after he testified. Then Mylan jacked the price of its EpiPen, an emergency allergy treatment that saves lives, to $600 up from the $100 almost overnight this summer. After public uproar, Mylan offered EpiPen cost breaks to low-income people — a common Pharma ruse that simply shifts costs to others while letting Pharma keep its prices. Meanwhile hepatitis C drugs that cost $84,000 a course of treatment are looting our Medicaid tax dollars in strapped states.
No, Pharma did not need a Trump presidency for a profit party — but the rejoicing will be merrier. Enjoy your overseas incorporations and tax dodges, Pharma.