11/7/2016 6:38:20 AM
November 7, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders continues to put pressure on the pharmaceutical industry, this time aiming at three insulin makers – Eli Lilly (LLY), Novo Nordisk A/S (NVO) and Sanofi (SNY) -- for price collusions.
Sanders, along with U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who has also been equally critical of drug companies, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission calling for an investigation into “potential collusion among pharmaceutical companies that manufacture diabetes products.” In other words, the two lawmakers believe the three companies are working together to drive up the costs of insulin treatments. In the letter, Sanders and Cummings cited an analysis of insulin prices that showed from 2012 to 2013 the cost of insulin more than tripled, jumping from $231 per year to $736 per year per patient. Insulin is used by about six million people in the United States, the letter says. They added that the original patents on insulin expired 75 years ago, but prices have not fallen.
“Not only have these pharmaceutical companies raised insulin prices significantly – sometimes by double digits overnight – in many instances the prices have increased in tandem,” Sanders and Cummings said in the letter. “We are concerned that the potential coordination by these drug makers may not simply be a case of ‘shadow pricing’ but may indicate possible collusion.”
In the letter, Sanders and Cummings cited a Bloomberg report that pointed to 13 incidents since 2009 when insulin prices for Sanofi’s Lantus and Novo Nordisk’s Levemir, have gone up in tandem in the U.S. They also said that Eli Lilly’s Humolog has gone up in price at the same time. Sanders and Cummings said the three companies were fined in Mexico in 2010 for colluding on insulin prices.
The letter to the DOJ followed a tweet that Sanders sent out earlier this month criticizing Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk over escalating insulin prices.
“People are dying and getting sicker because they can’t afford insulin, just so Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk can make outrageous profits,” Sanders said on his Twitter feed.
As expected, the three companies have denied collusion on their pricing. An Eli Lilly spokesperson told Stat News that the insulin market in the U.S. is “highly competitive.” The spokesperson also said the net price for its insulins, Humolog and Humilin, have not increased since 2009.
Following Sanders’ earlier tweet about Humolog, Eli Lilly said the revenue stream from the drug was actually lagging.
“…while the list price for Humalog has gone up, Lilly actually receives a lower average net price now than in 2009. When Lilly released third quarter earnings on October 25, the biggest miss noted was Humalog, whose US revenue fell 14 percent, driven by a 24 percent decline in net price,” Eli Lilly said in its statement, according to an earlier report by the Indianapolis Star.
A Novo Nordisk spokesperson also told Stat News that the company sets prices for the drugs independently of other companies and then negotiates “with payers and PBMs to ensure patients have access to them.”
A Sanofi spokesperson also told Stat News that it rejected the lawmakers’ claims of collusion and said the Paris-based company sets its insulin prices independently of other companies.
Sanders has been highly critical of pharmaceutical drug pricing. In recent weeks, he has sent out several tweets that take aim at some companies like Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Ariad Pharmaceuticals over pricing. Sanders’ tweet against Ariad caused that company’s stock to drop 15 percent.
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