Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences News

Capsule: HHS Takes Hits, Drug Patent Abuse, & Gene Therapy

March 1, 2019, 10:27 AM

Welcome to Capsule—your weekly dose of health-care news, where we give you a recap of this week’s highs and lows for key players in the health-care industry. You can expect us every Friday morning as a bookend for your week.

Thanks for taking a break from the Michael Cohen hearing, which has become must-watch television for anyone in the District. We know you probably want to get back to it, so here’s quick overview of what you might have missed in the health world this week.

This is who ended the week on a high note:

Cannabis Researchers

  • States should have the authority to study medical marijuana on their own terms, according to a new lobbying group representing pot investors and farmers, Ayanna Alexander reports.
  • The National Cannabis Roundtable is urging Congress to create more medical research opportunities for marijuana-based companies through individual state laws. They could do that by exempting states where pot is legal from federal enforcement.
  • Congress is starting to come around. During a House appropriations hearing this week, FDA leader Scott Gottlieb was grilled by several Representatives about what’s stopping the agency from studying cannabidiol—also know as CBD. Gottlieb said the agency has “heard Congress loud and clear” and anticipates holding a public hearing in April about what CBD regulation should look like.

Medicare for All Progress

  • A group of House Democrats led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) unveiled one of the most-ambitious efforts to overhaul the country’s health system and replace it with one where the federal government pays for nearly all care services, Alex Ruoff reports.
  • Under the bill (H.R. 1384), every American would get health care for life that includes a wide scope of services and the federal government would be granted new powers to negotiate the prices of medicines and dictate what doctors and hospitals are paid.
  • ‘Medicare for All’ comes in many shapes and sizes, but the latest push is cause for concern for health insurers who saw their stocks decline this week, Tatiana Darie from Bloomberg News reports.
  • The S&P 500 Managed Health Care Index plunged as much as 4.9 percent, the most since Dec. 6, led by UnitedHealth Group Inc., Humana Inc., and WellCare Health Plans Inc. The broader health sector index fell 0.8 percent.

Gene Therapy Investors

  • Gene therapy is a hot field in the pharma world and the mergers are stating to catch up to the hype. A string of deals are driving shares of Nasdaq Biotech companies higher in pre-market trading, particularly those companies developing gene therapies, Cristin Flanagan of Bloomberg News reports.
  • Specifically, Roche Holding AG agreed to buy a Philadelphia-based gene therapy company on Feb. 25 at a price that’s more than double where the shares closed on Friday, Feb. 22, Phil Serafino from Bloomberg News writes.
  • Companies buying drug and biotech companies over the past five years paid an average premium of 56.5 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. This year, the premium jumped to 78.6 percent.

It was a bleak week for others. Here’s whose Thursday closed on a downswing:

Drug Patent Extenders

  • Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are threatening legislation to prevent drug companies from gaming the patent system to extend market exclusivity for blockbuster drugs. GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who sits on the panel, said he plans to speak to members about how to stop companies from unfairly extending drug patents. Grassley, also a Judiciary member, said he will back him up.
  • This was a tough week for drugmakers, who were dragged in front of the Senate Finance Committee to discuss their pricing techniques. The CEOs themselves got a lot of criticism in part because they’re making money hand over fist while other Americans struggle to pay for prescriptions, Genevieve Douglas, Jasmine Ye Han, and I report.
  • Unfair patent extensions were a highlight of the drug price hearing on Feb. 26. Bloomberg Law analyzed some of the other topics discussed here.

Abortion-Rights Voters

  • Anti-abortion groups are vowing to run get-out-the-vote campaigns against key Democratic senators who struck down a measure Monday that would’ve punished doctors who fail to provide medical care for children who survive abortions, Alex Ruoff reports.
  • “We’re going to use this vote to target Democrat presidential candidates and Democrat senators as we go door to door in their states,” the head of a national anti-abortion group said. “We want our voters to know.”
  • Meanwhile abortion-rights groups are battling the Trump administration to challenge its pending “gag rule” preventing federally funded, family planning providers from making abortion referrals, Paul Shukovsky writes.
  • Washington’s attorney general and the state’s ACLU branch will separately sue the administration over the rule, and that suit is likely to reach the Supreme Court, Washington’s attorney general told Shukovsky.

HHS Leaders

  • It was a tough week for the Health and Human Services Department. If they thought they were finished dealing with the child separation along the border, they were wrong. Thousands of unaccompanied migrant children have alleged they were sexually assaulted while in the agency’s custody, Shira Stein reports.
  • Meanwhile, the agency got hammered by lawmakers about inconsistencies in its plan to end HIV in the U.S. within a decade, Madison Alder writes.
  • Proposed budget cuts to federal HIV/AIDS programs, a proposed rule that could limit access to HIV medication, Medicaid waivers’ impact on access to health care, and the administration’s recent changes to the Title X abortion funding regulation were among the administration policies on which Congress sought clarification.
  • The HHS also has to explain gaps in paperwork surrounding a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information related to healthcare.gov marketing during the final weeks of the 2016-2017 enrollment period, Mary Anne Pazanowski reports.

Thanks for joining us this week and have a great weekend. I’m all ears when it comes to your two cents, tips, critiques, or coordinating exclusive interviews. Send them my way at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee in Washington at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Randy Kubetin at rkubetin@bloomberglaw.com

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