Pfizer CEO Urges Biden to Form Coalition to Lower Drug Costs

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Pfizer Inc. Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla on Friday urged U.S. President Joe Biden to form a bipartisan coalition in Washington to address high drug costs.

There’s a great opportunity for Biden to take the initiative to “reduce significantly the cost of medicines for the patients, which is the thing that is now problematic,” Bourla said in an interview with David Westin on Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power” show.

Pfizer CEO Urges Biden to Form Coalition to Lower Drug Costs

The out-of-pocket drug costs now paid by patients “is something that needs to be fixed, and it needs to be fixed urgently,” Bourla said. Pharmaceutical industry executives would be willing to help cover the cost of such reform, but they want to ensure their contributions would go directly toward lowering patient costs, he added.

“What we don’t want to do is to give money that will go to the black hole of the federal budget,” Bourla said. “We want everything that we contribute to go to lower the out-of-pocket costs of the patients.”

In the interview, Bourla didn’t discuss specifics on what reforms he might want to see from the government. In an earnings call in May, though, he said the three key areas the company would like to see from Congress and the Biden administration are rebate reform, capping beneficiary cost-sharing in Medicare Part D and incentivizing the uptake of biosimilars.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech SE are the developers of a messenger RNA vaccine that, along with shots by Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, has helped stem the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bourla was asked if he was worried the goodwill developed by Pfizer’s actions in developing and producing the vaccine could turn as a result of industry actions on pricing. “I know that reputation is earned in drops,” he said. “But you can lose it in buckets.”

Vaccine Development

The CEO also detailed the development of the vaccine, saying he initially questioned the messenger-RNA route since no vaccines using that technology had been successful before. But the company ended up moving quickly with partner BioNTech SE with that platform.

The two companies didn’t want to lose time to work out legal language for a contract and didn’t sign their commercial agreement until January of this year, Bourla said.

U.S. public health advisers will be meeting next week to discuss a potential link between the mRNA vaccines and heart inflammation after hundreds of vaccinated people experienced a condition called myocarditis.

Side Effects

Bourla said Pfizer is looking at reports on side effects and figuring out if incidents among people who have been vaccinated are higher than would be expected in the population. So far, the company hasn’t seen a signal, he said.

Looking ahead, the lessons learned from developing the vaccine could be applied to many other areas, he said. “If we were able to do it for Covid, why not for cancer? Why not for Alzheimer’s? Why not for many other diseases that require treatments?”

Bourla in May said Pfizer expects two mRNA approaches for a flu vaccine to enter the clinic in the third quarter, and the company also plans to address other infectious diseases and therapeutic areas with the technology.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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