The Senate Finance Committee is holding a high-profile hearing on Tuesday that will feature testimony from the CEOs of seven major drug companies: Pfizer, Sanofi, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, Johnson & Johnson and AbbVie.
The hearing is the latest in a series held by the committee on high drug prices. Here are five topics to watch out for:
- Transparency and rebates: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley tweeted on Monday that the price people pay for prescription drugs is shrouded in secrecy, foreshadowing a likely line of questioning tomorrow at the hearing. Lawmakers in both parties have derided the lack of transparency that drug companies employ in setting list prices;
- Mentions of drug pricing legislation: Lowering drug prices has wide bipartisan support Senators could use the hearing as an opportunity to press for certain legislation. Grassley recently reintroduced the CREATES Act alongside Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to clamp down on tactics that brand-name drug companies use to delay generic competition. But pharma's opponents in the healthcare industry are hoping for additional legislation on drug price transparency.
- Biosimilars: AbbVie makes the top-selling drug in the world Humira. The anti-inflammatory biologic drug doesn't have any competition. Even though the original patent for Humira expired in 2016, the drug company has gotten several new patents to extend protection from competition. While several biosimilars have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, none have reached the market due to the strong patent protection. While the FDA has approved 16 biosimilars, only a few have reached the market;
- Cost of insulin: Sanofi is one of the three drug companies that produce insulin, which has steadily rose in price over the years and has no biosimilar competition. Grassley and Ranking Member Ron Wyden both wrote to insulin makers last week demanding answers for the steady price increases for insulin, which has been around since the early 1900s.
- Insurers and pharmacy benefit managers could be next: Grassley hinted in another tweet that other industries could be next before the committee. "I hope the drug co CEOs testifying tmrw don't try to blame everyone but themselves/take no responsibility for their role in fixing the problem," Grassley tweeted. "We already understand there are other factors to consider. [Tomorrow] is [about] the part drug [companies] can do to lower costs for patients [and] taxpayers."