US lawmakers to investigate drug pricing practices by Valeant, three other companies

The US Senate's Special Committee on Aging said that it will launch an investigation into the drug pricing practices of four companies including Valeant Pharmaceuticals. The panel, which is being led by Senators Susan Collins and Claire McCaskill, has asked Valeant, in addition to Retrophin, Rodelis Therapeutics and Turing Pharmaceuticals, to provide documents related to "drugs that have seen recent and significant spikes in price." Collins remarked "the Senate Special Committee on Aging considers these massive price increases worthy of a serious, bipartisan investigation into the causes, impacts and potential solutions."

In its investigation, the Senate committee will focus on large price increases for newly acquired products as well as mergers and acquisitions among drugmakers that have resulted in significant price hikes on off-patent drugs. The committee indicated that it will also assess the FDA's role in the approval process for generic drugs, the agency's distribution protocols and, if necessary, its off-label regulatory regime. The committee noted that it has tentatively scheduled a hearing for December 9, with subsequent hearings to be potentially held in the coming months.

Specifically, the committee has asked Valeant to justify price hikes enacted for the cardiovascular treatments Isuprel (isoproterenol) and Nitropress (nitroprusside) after acquiring the therapies in February. The panel additionally requested information from Turing concerning a price increase of the toxoplasmosis treatment Daraprim (pyrimethamine). The drugmaker acquired US marketing rights to Daraprim from Impax Laboratories earlier this year.

Commenting on the news, Valeant remarked "we look forward to cooperating with the committee on its inquiry." The company added "the list price of any individual drug typically does not reflect the actual amount paid by a health care provider or insurance company, and Valeant devotes a significant portion of its revenue to patient assistance programmes that are designed to make important medicines more affordable to the patients who need them."

Meanwhile, Retrophin, whose shares declined as much as 15 percent on the news, stated "pharmaceutical pricing that strikes the right balance between affordability and enabling innovation is an issue of legitimate concern for patients and the industry, and we look forward to sharing our views with the special committee."

Last month, Valeant acknowledged that it received two US subpoenas requesting information on its pricing decisions and other matters. In addition, Democratic members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have asked committee chairman Jason Chaffetz to subpoena Valeant regarding price increases for Isuprel and Nitropress. Earlier this week, Chaffetz stated that he plans to hold a hearing on prescription drug costs, although further details were not provided.

Additionally, US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton previously unveiled a plan to combat price gouging in the pharmaceutical industry. For related analysis, see ViewPoints: Clinton's tough talk on drug prices causing some notable about-faces and ViewPoints: Assessing the risks to industry from Clinton’s 'new' plan to combat rising drug prices.

For additional analysis concerning drug pricing, read FirstWord Lists: Framing the US drug pricing debate – the key flashpoints.

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