Pfizer Inc. research and development facility in Cambridge, U.S. (Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg)

Many Drugmakers Ignore Trump—and Raise Prices Anyway

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump succeeded in convincing Pfizer Inc. to hold off on price increases it had planned for this month.

But the pharmaceutical giant wasn’t the only drug company seeking to charge more for its products in recent days.

In the first 10 days of July, at least ten other drugmakers and biotechnology companies raised prices on at least 20 brand-name medicines, a review of pricing data from Rx Savings Solutions and Bloomberg Intelligence shows.

The increases, for medications for cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and liver disease, were generally each less than 10 percent. But the price of one little-prescribed sleep aid was raised by more than 700 percent.

Celgene Corp. raised the price of blockbuster cancer drug Revlimid by 5 percent to $695.48 a capsule, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence and First Databank. Since Trump was elected in Nov. 2016, the drug’s price has been raised by over 25 percent through four separate increases.

Celgene also increased the price of Pomalyst, another cancer drug, by 5 percent.

The number of price increases in a short period suggests that Trump’s use of the bully pulpit is likely to have little impact on drug prices in the long term, said Michael Rea, chief executive officer of Rx Savings Solutions, which helps patients find low-cost drugs.

Some other drugmakers, under pressure from a new California price-transparency law and the broader political climate, have canceled plans to raise prices. Nevertheless, the number of increases “signals that the fear from government threat is waning,” said Rea.

“I expect no lasting impact from Pfizer’s agreement,” said Rea. While the drugmaker received blowback because of its prominence, other companies “are happy to be flying under the radar.”

On Wednesday, Senator Ron Wyden sent letters to Pfizer and the Department of Health and Human Services, asking for details of the agreement. He called the result of Trump’s one-on-one effort with Pfizer “cheap PR points that don’t address the fundamental challenges that lead to higher prices every year.”

On Thursday, one of the administration’s top health officials promised more action on drug pricing soon.

“There’s going to be a lot of announcements,” Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a meeting with reporters in Washington. “We probably meet every single day on this.”

Past Promises

In June, Celgene CEO Mark Alles vowed to limit price increases to once a year, capping them at the projected annual percentage growth in U.S. medical spending, which this year was forecast to be 5.3 percent. The latest increases are in line with that pledge.

“We recently took pricing actions for two of our eight FDA-approved medicines at less than the rate of anticipated U.S. health care spending growth for the year,” Celgene spokesman Greg Geissman said in an email. “No further pricing actions for these or any of our other FDA-approved medicines are anticipated this year.”

Still, “any price increase in the current environment appears bold,” especially after Pfizer’s showdown with Trump, Cowen & Co. analyst Phil Nadeau wrote Wednesday.

Celgene has been accused by rivals and patient groups of protecting Revlimid, its top-selling drug, from competition by making it hard for generic drugmakers seeking to make a cheaper copycat to get samples for testing. Revlimid had sales of $8.19 billion in 2017.

“The price of this drug shouldn’t be going up at all, it should have been going down for the past several years,” said David Mitchell, a cancer patient who started the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs. He used to take Revlimid and is suing Celgene over alleged anticompetitive behavior.

Celgene has previously denied allegations of thwarting competition and said that it sold samples of Revlimid and related products several times to generic manufacturers for testing. It declined further comment.

Patent Overhang

Roche Holding AG, which recently canceled a planned 4 percent increase for anticlotting drug Cathflo Activase, raised prices on some of its costly top-selling cancer drugs.

This month, it boosted the price of a single-use vial of breast-cancer drug Herceptin by 3 percent. Avastin, another cancer drug, went up 2.5 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence and First Databank. The changes follow increases for both drugs in January.

Many Drugmakers Ignore Trump—and Raise Prices Anyway

Insulin costs, a longstanding pain point for diabetes patients, have also risen this month. In early July, Novo Nordisk A/S raised the price of Levemir and Novolog by 5 percent, to $293.75 for a 10 milliliter vial of Levemir and $289.36 for a 10 milliliter vial of Novolog. Patients can use more than one vial a month. The Danish drugmaker also raised the price of its Victoza diabetes injection by 7.9 percent.

“Our decision to take a list price increase was not taken lightly,” says Ken Inchausti, a spokesman for Novo Nordisk. But the company continues to face pressure to provide more substantial discounts to insurers and drug-benefit managers, and its net prices have fallen in the past several years, he said.

Acorda Therapeutics Inc. said it raised the price of Ampyra multiple sclerosis drug by 9.5 percent this month because its patent is due to expire on July 30th.

“This was the last price increase on the brand,” said Tierney Saccavino, an executive vice president for Acorda. The company is appealing a court decision that invalidated several of its Ampyra patents. If it wins the appeal and generics don’t enter the market, Acorda won’t raise prices again on Amprya through the end of 2019, she said.

Endo International Plc also boosted the price of its blood vessel-constricting agent Vasostrict, raising the price 9.9 percent this month to $167.25 for a single injection. Approved in 2014, Vasostrict is a more expensive branded version of the older drug vasopressin.

Endo has made significant investments in its sterile injectables factory and believes that its current product prices are appropriate, said Heather Zoumas Lubeski, a spokeswoman for the company.

Sleep-Drug Surge

By far the biggest price increase this month -- of more than 700 percent -- came from tiny Aytu BioScience Inc., for an obscure sleep drug called Zolpimist. The new price of a 30-dose canister of the oral spray is $329.50, up from around $40. The price of a 60-dose canister rose to $659, up from around $70, the company confirmed.

Last year there were just 2,400 prescriptions for the drug, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence.

The move still leaves the product below the per-dose prices for other branded sleep aids like Ambien, Chief Executive Josh Disbrow said. He said that Zolpimist was underpriced when his company acquired it on June 11.

“We looked at the competitive pricing and the pricing across the board,” Disbrow said in an interview. “This is very much a niche product. It’s not priced to compete with generic pills, it’s priced really as a premium product for people who want a more rapid way of getting to sleep.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.