CORONAVIRUS – Watchdog Group to Sec. Azar: Commit to Putting Patients and Taxpayers Ahead of Big Pharma in Vaccine and Treatment Development
(Washington, DC) – With Secretary Alex Azar preparing to testify in front of the House and Senate this week on his overall budget request as well as the Administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, Patients Over Pharma released the following statement calling on him to be transparent about any Big Pharma influence over coronavirus response decisions and to guarantee that Big Pharma profits won’t be considered as the Administration takes steps to protect the American people from the outbreak.
“Big Pharma’s influence over the Trump Administration is never good for patients, but it’s especially concerning when we need our policymakers to be focused on keeping Americans safe from the novel coronavirus outbreak, not worrying about the impact that would have on Big Pharma profits,” said Eli Zupnick, Patients Over Pharma spokesman.
“Taxpayers have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into research and development on coronavirus vaccines while Big Pharma has largely sat on the sidelines, so it should be a no-brainer that any coronavirus vaccine or treatment that is developed be fully accessible and affordable for patients across the country, and not simply the latest products for Big Pharma to lock down with exclusive licenses.”
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.
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]
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]
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]
Headline: Wall Street Journal: “Coronavirus-Drug Development Becomes a Top Focus at Gilead.” [Wall Street Journal, 2/12/20]
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]
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]
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.