Take Action: Send a Letter to Sen. Wyden

By Sean Flanigan posted 03-27-2013 17:15

As we come to the end of another winter there is a chill blowing across the United States and luckily, this time, it has nothing to do with Arctic air from Canada. This chill could very easily spell an almost total halt in pharmaceutical industry collaborations with National Institutes of Health (NIH)  researchers. Let me explain.

In a recent letter to NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins, Sen. Ron Wyden (D – Oregon) has implored the NIH to reconsider its policies in order to ensure that “When taxpayer-funded research is commercialized, the public deserves a real return on its investment.” Essentially Sen. Wyden wants NIH to require consideration of the public interest in the pricing of drugs developed under NIH collaborative research and development agreements (CRADA) with industry. The genesis of this letter was the introduction of Xeljanz, a new Pfizer treatment for rheumatoid arthritis that has been developed based on the work of an NIH researcher. Sen. Wyden’s concern was that this drug was too expensive and that because there was NIH support for the initial development work, NIH should influence the ultimate price to increase access to novel treatments and medicines. Don’t get me wrong, access to novel therapies is a good thing. Access to novel therapies at an appropriate price is a good thing. But should government tell companies how to price their drugs, regardless of the development costs that the company has invested? I think that is the role of the market.

So how do we know that government dictating drug prices will dramatically reduce, or eliminate, drug development in the United States? Luckily we have history to tell us the answer. In a well-crafted
article in IP Watchdog, Joe Allen recounts the last time that Congress sought to influence the pricing of tech transfer deals in the pharma space:

“Influential members of the House of Representatives coerced NIH into adopting this approach twenty years ago. The upshot was not a decrease in drug pricing, but a breakdown of industry/NIH cooperation as companies rightly feared how such a vague formula would be applied. The result was that some of the best minds at NIH and industry stopped working together with the ultimate loss felt by patients praying for relief of their suffering.”

I strongly encourage all AUTM members to read Joe’s article as well as the
follow on piece in Forbes by John LaMattina as both paint the grim future of drug development in the United States should initiatives such as these take root. Once you have had a chance to consider the seriousness of this situation, and the need for swift and decisive action, I would encourage you—and all AUTM members with NIH funding—to write to Sen. Wyden to register your concerns. AUTM has provided a template letter in order to facilitate such communications. Please share this template letter with your federal relations colleagues and customize it for your own institution. Be sure to copy Dr. Collins on your reply. Once you've sent your letter, please let us know!

There are many challenges and risks associated with drug development based on foundational research and we must be ever vigilant to guard against reactionary policies that make such development more difficult, if not impossible, regardless of the motivations.
1 comment


04-02-2013 17:42

Sean, Great advice to submit comments regarding Senator Wyden's request of the NIH. Emory has submitted a letter to his office and I strongly urge other universities to do so. Todd Sherer