Help Wanted: Pharma CEOs who “get it”

“(STAT News) Merck CEO Ken Frazier said” “Given the role of medicines in society and the ethics around medicine, my personal view is that pharma CEOs can’t’ take the attitude that they’re going to maximize financial outcomes.” Well said, sir.

Wall Street expects a LOT from the pharma industry. They want new blockbuster drugs and love it when they fend off patent losses with litigation. Unfortunately, patients pay the price for this approach.

A great example is a new drug just approved by the FDA. A vital study of the therapy found that Behring’s Hemgenix, administered just once, cut the number of bleeding events for hemophilia patients by 54 percent. In comparison, It also freed 94 percent of patients from time-consuming and costly infusions of Factor IX, which is currently used to control the potentially deadly condition but costs $3.5 million.

One could argue that the benefit of Hemgenix far outweighs the cost, but that is mainly to make industry people feel good about the industry, and it’s happening more and more.

The FDA approved a new teplizumab treatment that delays the onset of type 1 diabetes, which will total $193,000 over the 14-day treatment. Experts say the new treatment could save patients years of taking insulin and monitoring blood sugar but at that cost which is going to pay?

Watching Pfizer signal its intent to potentially quadruple the price of its COVID-19 vaccination and Moderna’s likely follow-on price increase would make anyone and everyone cynical. Pharma is communicating, more and more, that profits are its top priority.

The industry is facing a crossroads; it can’t operate the same anymore and must become more patient-friendly. It has to reject high pricing in favor of broader use and hire CEOs who can tell Wall Street to take a leap in drug pricing and development.

The drugs that pharma develops allow us to live longer with a better quality of life, but that is not a license to charge as much as they can. We should also remember that the list price is not necessarily what a patient pays. There are negotiations with PBMs and insurers who all want their share, but it still sends the wrong message. The problem is that they don’t care about the message because we need them more than they need us.