How much is too much when it comes to the price of prescription drugs?
This week, U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) crossed party lines and introduced a bill to answer that very question. The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act is designed to monitor drug companies anti-competitive use of patents to protect their prescription drugs and prevent generic and biosimilar competition from coming to market, according to a press release from Cornyn’s office.
The senators believe that the bill would encourage competition and give patients access to drugs at a cheaper cost without infringing on patent rights.
While the bill begins its legislative journey, there already has been some backlash.
Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation, said there were issues around intellectual property protection.
“We disagree with it,” Matthews told the FDA Reporter. “The Dallas Morning News just published today an op-ed by me discussing some of the issues.”
One of the top issues Matthews wrote about was intellectual property protection, which he said was crucial to innovation.
“Currently, drug manufacturers receive 20 years of patent protection on new products,” Matthews wrote. “If those products receive Food and Drug Administration approval, the innovator company has an exclusive right to sell that brand-name drug until the patent expires. After that, generic companies are free to create and sell knockoff versions.”
Matthews wrote that drug manufacturers have been shifting their focus to more complicated, hard-to-cure diseases like Alzheimer's and cancer and many other rare ones.
“That's exactly what we want,” he wrote. “But more complicated diseases require more complicated drugs, which opens the door to multiple patents. Some of those patents may come later in the development process, which may effectively extend the company's intellectual property protections. It's the experts at the U.S. Patent Office, not lawmakers, who determine whether a patent application is valid.”
Matthews wrote that the bipartisan bill would deter companies from making improvements to their medicines.
“Drug companies are sometimes able to offer improved versions of products, and minor improvements can provide significant benefits,” he wrote.
Matthews summed up his argument this way.
“Yes, abuses of the patent system should be addressed. But without strong protections, drug companies would have little incentive to search for new cures and treatments,” Matthews wrote. “If Congress weakens patent laws, patients may never benefit from new treatments or cures.”
Cornyn and Blumenthal made the following comments regarding their bill, according to a press release from Cornyn’s office.
“Drug companies have taken advantage of the patent system to maintain their monopoly on certain drugs and prevent generics from coming to market,” Cornyn said. “These tactics mean Americans are forced to pay more for the life-saving medications they need. This bill puts patients first and reforms the system to encourage the availability of cheaper generics.”
“Using practices that would make the robber barons of the gilded age blush, Big Pharma has crushed competition and stifled access to cheaper generic drugs to squeeze billions out of families, businesses, and the government,” Blumenthal said.“Through common sense reforms, this bipartisan bill will empower the FTC to fight back against drug companies’ most egregious and monopolistic practices. It represents an important step in reining in Big Pharma’s greed and puts the industry on notice — enough is enough.”