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Advocates Urge Sec. Becerra to Act on New Roadmap for Executive Action on Drug Prices

Drugs cited include COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid and cancer drug Xtandi

Washington, D.C. – Today, advocates with the recently-launched Make Meds Affordable campaign are urging U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to act on a new roadmap that provides a path to drug price relief for millions of Americans. As Congress continues to work through legislative reform on drug pricing, the Biden administration could lower drug prices, improve the lives of millions of Americans, move towards eliminating the epidemics of our time, and improve health equity using existing executive authority, notes the letter.

The medicines cited as a starting point for executive action under the road map include the “exorbitantly priced” drugs Xtandi, a cancer treatment; Paxlovid, Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment; Descovy, an HIV prevention drug; Epclusa, a cure for hepatitis C; Symbicort, an inhaler; and insulin.

“High drug prices are rooted in monopoly power granted by the government. Likewise, the government can take that power away to improve lives for millions who rely on critical medicines,” says Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program. “Drug pricing legislation is essential. Yet HHS does not need to wait for Congress to begin lowering drug prices, and the expected legislation on its own cannot end monopolistic price abuse. Challenging pharma today will give the government leverage, deliver affordable medicines and increase the benefits of drug price negotiation in the near future.”

The two executive authorities the federal government can use to end patent monopolies that would be “transformative for public health” include:

  • The “government patent use” authority (28 U.S.C. §1498) allows the government to use any patented invention in exchange for reasonable compensation. The federal government used the law repeatedly in the 1960s to buy low-cost generic versions of patented drugs. The government still routinely uses Section 1498 for other technologies, like night-vision goggles and electronic passports.
  • “March-in rights” and the royalty-free government use license allows the government to introduce additional producers when the patents on a medicine resulted from government funding, or to use such patents royalty-free on behalf of the United States, to ensure the product is “available to the public on reasonable terms.”

“There’s nothing reasonable about the sky-high profits that pharmaceutical companies enjoy at the expense of taxpayers,” said Julia Santos, Senior Healthcare Policy Manager for Indivisible.

HHS has indicated it will decide soon whether to initiate march-in proceedings to authorize generic competition with Xtandi in response to a separate petition filed in November by patient advocates Robert Sachs and Clare Love.

“I am a healthcare voter. I supported President Biden because of his stance on healthcare and his assistance with the ACA,” said Erin Jackson-Hill with Stand Up Alaska, an affiliate of Center for Popular Democracy, who has asthma and requires a prescription for inhalers. “I don’t understand why he is allowing us, the American people, to suffer when he has the power to make the change. With inflation and the increased price of oil, now seems like the perfect time to give the American people some relief. Haven’t we been through enough?”

The following groups signed onto the letter: Action Center on Race & The Economy; Center for Popular Democracy Action; Indivisible; People’s Action; PrEP4All; Public Citizen; Social Security Works; and T1International.

“For the past decade, Gilead Sciences has abused the patent system to profit billions from taxpayer-funded HIV prevention drugs,” said Christian Urrutia, Co-Founder of the HIV advocacy group PrEP4All. “Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Americans who could not access these drugs have acquired HIV. Secretary Becerra must step up to ensure that publicly-funded research is used to help patients and not line the pockets of pharmaceutical executives.”

“In the almost 100 years since insulin was patented, the pharmaceutical industry has abused the patent system to increase their bottom line in ways that harm people with diabetes,” said Shaina Kasper, a person with type 1 diabetes, and U.S. Policy Manager with T1International. “Loopholes mean that patents can be put on incrementally improved products, on non-active ingredients, and associated delivery devices to keep the prices going up. We must close these loopholes.”

“Seniors and families can’t wait any longer for Congress to lower drug prices,” said Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works. “President Biden and Secretary Becerra have the power to bust big pharma monopolies through executive action. This roadmap lays out exactly how to do it.”

“Greedy pharmaceutical companies, whose sole goal is to pad their executives’ and shareholders’ wallets, are forcing everyday people to risk their lives by rationing the drugs they need to survive,” said Aija Nemer-Aanerud, People’s Action Health Care for All Campaign Director. “Congress gave Secretary Becerra the power to lower the cost of these drugs. He needs to fight these corporate bullies and use it.”

Read the letter to Sec. Becerra here.