Secretary Azar refused to guarantee coronavirus vaccine/treatment affordability: “…we can’t control that price, because we need the private sector to invest…Price controls won’t get us there”

Washington, DC – Today, Patients Over Pharma released the following statement calling for Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Domestic Policy Council Chairman Joe Grogan to be immediately removed from President Trump and Vice President Pence’s Coronavirus Task Force. This follows Secretary Azar’s disastrous congressional testimony and his refusal to commit to forcing Big Pharma to make coronavirus vaccines and treatment affordable for every American as well as reports that Joe Grogan’s former employer and lobbying client, Gilead Sciences, could benefit financially from the Administration’s response.

“Secretary Azar’s admission that he isn’t willing to cross Big Pharma to protect Americans from coronavirus should be shocking to every family across the country and is grounds for immediate removal from any further role in the Administration’s coronavirus response,” said Eli Zupnick, spokesman for Patients Over Pharma.

“It’s not enough for President Trump to publicly sideline Secretary Azar after his disastrous Congressional testimony in favor of Vice President Pence, whose most notable public health accomplishment was overseeing the largest HIV outbreak in state history.

“President Trump must immediately remove Secretary Azar and Joe Grogan from the Coronavirus Task Force, and he and Vice President Pence must publicly renounce Secretary Azar’s comments and guarantee that every American will have access to coronavirus vaccines and treatments even if that hurts Big Pharma’s bottom line.”

“Patients across the country deserve to have absolute confidence that their government is putting public health and safety first, and that can’t happen if Big Pharma’s top allies and an idealogue like Vice President Pence drive this Administration’s coronavirus response instead of public health experts.”

Following President Trump’s public announcement that Vice President Pence will be in charge of his Administration’s coronavirus response, Secretary Azar announced that he is ‘still chairman of the task force’ and said that he wasn’t being replaced ‘in the least.’”

According to a recent report from Public Citizen, the pharmaceutical industry hasn’t made significant investments in infectious diseases, including coronaviruses, while the National Institutes of Health has invested nearly $700 million on coronavirus R&D since the SARS outbreak.

Background: Azar and Grogan’s Big Pharma Ties

White House Appointed Azar To Head Coronavirus Task Force Including Domestic Policy Council Chief Joe Grogan. “Among the members of the newly announced group, which is being coordinated through the National Security Council: CDC Director Robert Redfield, the NIH’s top infectious disease doctor Tony Fauci and White House Domestic Policy Council chief Joe Grogan. ‘The Task Force will lead the Administration’s efforts to monitor, contain, and mitigate the spread of the virus, while ensuring that the American people have the most accurate and up-to-date health and travel information,” the White House said in a statement late Wednesday night.” [Politico, 1/30/20]

Headline: Washington Post: “Trump’s pick to lower drug prices is a former pharma executive who raised them.” [Washington Post, 11/13/17]

Headline: Politico: “Trump’s HHS Secretary Nominee Boosted Drug Prices While At Eli Lilly.” [Politico, 11/14/17]

Eli Lilly Doubled The Price Of Insulin From $123 To $255 Per Vial During The Five Years Azar Served As Company President. “President Trump’s pick for health secretary previously served as a high-ranking executive at a pharmaceutical company that repeatedly raised the prices of its drugs, doubling the U.S. list price of its top-selling insulin over the five years he served as a company president. … While Azar led Eli Lilly’s largest affiliate, Lilly USA, the U.S. list price of Humalog insulin more than doubled, from $123 per vial in Jan. 2012 to $255 per vial when he left the company in early 2017, according to data from Truven Health Analytics. Lilly, along with other insulin makers, was hit by a class-action lawsuit alleging overpricing of insulin earlier this year.” [Washington Post, 11/13/17]

Prices For Drugs For Osteoporosis and Attention Deficit Disorder Doubled Under Azar’s Tenure At Eli Lilly. “Azar stuttered to respond to a series of questions from Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the panel’s top Democrat, who highlighted splashy charts that showed plainly that the prices for an osteoporosis drug, Forteo, and an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drug, Strattera, had doubled during Azar’s tenure at Lilly.” [Stat News, 1/9/18]

Under Azar, Eli Lilly Priced Lung Cancer Drug at Over $10,000 A Month. “Eli Lilly & Co. said Friday its new lung-cancer drug will cost about $11,430 a patient a month in the U. S.—well above what a group of doctors say is a fair price that reflects what they call the drug’s modest benefit.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/11/15]

Azar Took In Millions As President Of Eli Lilly A Year Prior To Taking Office As HHS Secretary. “President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of Health and Human Services collected nearly $2 million in compensation during his final year as president of drug giant Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations, new public financial disclosures show. Alex Azar, who left the company in January, also pocketed $1.6 million in severance connected to his departure — and more recently made as much as $1 million from his sale of Eli Lilly stock. Those combined earnings don’t include the more than $700,000 that Azar received in assorted payouts at the end of his tenure, ranging from compensation for unused vacation time to an employer match for his savings plan.” [Politico, 11/20/17]

Grogan Served As Top Lobbyist For Gilead, Including Work On How Much Federal Health Program Paid For Its Medicines, Immediately Prior To Joining Trump Administration. “Grogan worked as the top lobbyist for Gilead Sciences until he arrived at OMB last March, dealing with issues including how much federal health programs would pay for its medicines. Gilead was the company that in 2014 effectively set off the drug price controversy with Sovaldi, its breakthrough hepatitis C cure that cost $1,000 per pill and triggered a lengthy and highly critical Senate Finance Committee probe.” [Politico, 5/27/18]

Headline: Wall Street Journal: “Coronavirus-Drug Development Becomes a Top Focus at Gilead.” [Wall Street Journal, 2/12/20]

In Response To Prior Concerns About Conflict Of Interest Due To Lobbying Work, Admin Claimed Grogan Didn’t Need A Waiver Because His Role Would Affect Industry As A Whole And Not Just Gilead. “Joe Grogan — who has sweeping authority over drug pricing, entitlement programs and other aspects of federal health policy at the Office of Management and Budget — didn’t obtain a waiver from a directive Trump issued during his first week in office that imposed a two-year cooling-off period between lobbying and regulating on the same “specific issue area.” . . . The administration says Grogan didn’t need such a waiver because his OMB job doesn’t overlap with what he did for California-based Gilead. His new role, OMB says, affects policy for an entire industry, not simply the one company he worked for.” [Politico, 5/27/18]

Additional background on coronavirus response:

Headline: STAT News: “Lawmakers to Trump: Don’t give ‘monopolies’ to companies that develop coronavirus treatments with taxpayer funds.” [STAT News, 2/20/20]

Forty-Six Members Sent Letter Calling On HHS To Not Issue Exclusive Licensing To Drugmakers Working On Coronavirus Response. “In a letter sent Thursday, 46 members of Congress urged the Department of Health and Human Service not to issue an exclusive license to any drug maker that develops a coronavirus treatment over concerns that ‘providing monopoly rights could result in an expensive medicine that is inaccessible, wasting public resources and putting public health at risk in the U.S. and around the globe.’” [STAT News, 2/20/20]

Member Letter Urged Administration To Enforce Guardrails To Ensure Pharmaceutical Companies Like Regeneron Are Not Allowed To Monopolize Coronavirus Treatment While Maximizing Profits. “The lawmakers pointed to a deal this month between the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN) to develop a treatment for the coronavirus, BARDA agreed to pay 80% of R&D and manufacturing costs, after providing $8.9 million to support development of a treatment for Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS. “There must be guardrails in place to prevent Regeneron from monopolizing the medicine and maximizing profits,” they wrote in the letter, which was spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).” [STAT News, 2/20/20]

Pharma Industry Lobbyists Pushed Members To Take Their Names Off Of Letter, Downplay Taxpayer Money Used In Coronavirus Research. “The request riled the drug industry. Pharmaceutical lobbyists tried to get some Democrats to take their names off the letter ahead of its finalization, a person with direct knowledge of the pre-emptive campaign told PULSE, by downplaying the taxpayer funds going toward coronavirus vaccine research and emphasizing the complexities of the drug development process.” [Politico Pulse, 2/20/20]

Patients Over Pharma recently released an updated and expanded version of their BigPharmasBestFriends.org website, which reveals the latest on Trump Administration officials who made millions of dollars from the pharmaceutical industry, the number of pharmaceutical companies and lobbying groups represented in the Trump administration, the revolving door between the Trump Administration and the pharmaceutical industry, and more.

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