WASHINGTON — A powerful Senate Democrat is asking Pfizer to explain why it hiked the price of its nerve pain drug, Lyrica. And if Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has his way, more companies will soon be asked to account for their decisions to raise prices.
A bottle of 90 Lyrica pills costs over $650 before rebates and discounts. In 2005, it cost $150, according to Elsevier’s Gold Standard Drug Database.
“The cost of Pfizer’s drug, Lyrica, has grown tremendously over the past several years,” Wyden wrote in a letter sent to Pfizer Tuesday evening, which was first shared with STAT. “In 2016 alone, over 850,000 Medicare beneficiaries were prescribed Lyrica resulting in $2.1 billion Medicare spending. The main cause of this increase has been Pfizer’s consistent and egregious price increases.”
Wyden, who is the lead Democrat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, takes particular issue with the recent news that the Food and Drug Administration granted Pfizer six months of additional exclusivity after it approved the drug to treat seizures in children. Lyrica would otherwise have been eligible for generic competition later this month.
The Oregon Democrat has had a tumultuous relationship with Pfizer over the past few months.When Pfizer backed off planned price increases in July after pressure from President Trump, Wyden branded the decision a “secret, sweetheart arrangement.”
Wyden isn’t the only one questioning Pfizer’s pricing of Lyrica. The nonprofit I-MAK, which supports patent reform as a way to lower drug prices, has called Lyrica “a prime example of the type of over-patenting based on trivial inventions that are often used by drugmakers in order to artificially extend their commercial exclusivity while raising prices.”
In Tuesday’s letter, Wyden asked Pfizer whether it plans to increase the price of Lyrica as part of its decision in November to increase the price of 41 yet-to-be-disclosed drugs. He also asked the company to specify what factors influenced Pfizer’s most recent price increases. Wyden also wants information on how much revenue Lyrica has generated for Pfizer and how much the company has spent marketing the drug.
Pfizer didn’t comment on the letter Tuesday.
It’s all information that would be available should Wyden’s bill, the Stopping the Pharmaceutical Industry from Keeping Drugs Expensive (SPIKE) Act, be signed into law. That bill, which has been stalled in the Finance Committee, would require drug makers to justify price increases.
Wyden, who has long been critical of the drug industry, will likely have more power next Congress to see his ideas signed into law. While Democrats still remain in the minority in the Senate, Wyden could have a more willing partner on some of his efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs in Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who will take the gavel for the committee next Congress.
A spokesperson for Grassley, however, signaled the Iowa Republican would oppose this particular bill.
“As written, it sounds like it opens the door to price controls,” the spokesman wrote in an email to STAT. “Sen. Grassley opposes federal price controls on prescription drugs, which ultimately limit access for consumers and don’t work in the long-run to keep prices down.”