The federal government shouldn’t force drug companies to lower the costs of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments but should encourage fair pricing, Anthony S. Fauci said Tuesday.
“I have a lot of experience over the years dealing with pharmaceutical companies in which we’re trying to develop an intervention,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the National Institutes of Health, said. “And the one thing that is clear is that if you try to enforce things on a company that has multiple, different opportunities to do different things, they will walk away.” Fauci spoke at BIO Digital, the first virtual convention by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.
At issue is what the government can compel private industry to do, especially when taxpayer dollars fund the basic research and clinical trials like the experimental vaccine developed by the NIAID and Moderna Inc. that’s in early clinical testing.
“This is what’s called a get-Tony-in-trouble question,” Fauci said in response to a question from BIO President and Chief Executive Officer Michelle McMurry-Heath.
“Many of these outbreaks disproportionately affect regions of the world that cannot afford a very expensive intervention,” Fauci said. “So that’s the reason why we’ve got to work with each other in good faith that we’re going to help. But I’ve never seen a successful attempt at doing controls.”
BIO has pushed back on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing plan and other proposals to impose price controls. Reps. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) introduced a bill (H.R. 6450) that would limit drug companies from selling their products at more than 10% of the cost during a public health emergency. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has a companion bill.
“We can’t allow American families—who are already struggling to make ends meet during this public health emergency—to be squeezed even further by companies out to make a quick buck,” Warren said in a statement.
161 Vaccines in Development
There are 238 treatments being considered and 161 vaccines in development, according to a tracker by Faster Cures. Fauci said he expects multiple products to come to market, which will be necessary to supply the billions of doses needed to get vaccines for the entire world.
“You’re not going to have 100 vaccines,” he said. “There’s going to be more than one, I’ll guarantee.”
While companies have jumped to respond to the Covid-19 outbreak, the NIAID had trouble finding industry partners for Ebola and West Nile vaccine candidates developed by NIH scientists. The NIAID typically conducts the basic and early clinical research to reduce the risk of finding new treatments and vaccines. It then partners with pharmaceutical companies that eventually bring those products to the market.
“When you’re dealing with something that has to have some kind of an economic return, you can’t just do something and just give it away. You’ve got to have some degree of profit,” Fauci said. Pricing can’t be “outrageous” or it will be inaccessible “to the people who really need it,” he said.
Some companies have already addressed pricing ahead of development. Gilead Sciences Inc. CEO Daniel O’Day has said his company will work to ensure affordability and access if the Food and Drug Administration approves its experimental treatment remdesivir. Merck & Co. said it is updating an assistance program to provide U.S. patients the company’s medicines at no cost for those who have lost their jobs or can’t visit their doctor’s office during the pandemic.