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Rep. Katie Porter Calls Out Big Pharma CEO for Profiting Off Drug Price Hikes

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  • A now-viral clip of Rep. Katie Porter shows her laying into the former CEO of the drug company Celgene for tripling the price of a cancer drug and detailing how that price hike was connected to the CEO’s salary. 
  • The clip comes from a hearing concluding a damning 18-month investigation that found drug company profits are the largest driver of drug price increases and gouging.
  • The reports show that the companies intentionally drove up the prices of essential drugs to meet quarterly earnings goals, engaged in anti-competitive behavior, and lobbied extensively against reforms.

Viral Video

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) trended on Twitter Wednesday after grilling the former CEO of the drug company over price hikes for the cancer drug Revlimid.

In a viral video, which now has over 19 million views, a white-board wielding Porter writes the number “$13 million” and asks Celgene CEO Mark Alles if it “rings any bells.”

“This was your compensation in 2017 for being CEO of Celgene, and that’s a lot of money. It’s 200 times the average American’s income and 360 times what the average senior gets on Social Security,” she said.

“Now, of that 13 million, about 2.1 million came from your company hitting yearly earnings targets, and more than half of the bonus formula was based on those targets,” she continued. “Any increase in the price of Revlimid would also increase your bonus by increasing earnings, isn’t that right Mr. Alles?”

Alles responded that that assessment was correct, and Porter went on to tell him that the House Oversight Committee found “that if you hadn’t increased the price of Revlimid you wouldn’t have gotten your bonus.”

“In fact, you personally received half a million dollars personally just by tripling the price of Revlimid,” she added. “So, to recap here, the drug didn’t get any better, the cancer patients didn’t get any better: you just got better at making money, you just refined your skills at price gouging. And to be clear, the taxpayer spent $3.3 billion on Revlimid.” 

House Investigation Findings

The now-viral video comes from a House Oversight Committee hearing that took place Wednesday.

The hearing, which was the first of two, marks the conclusion of a nearly two-year-long investigation by the committee’s Democrats into prescription drug price gouging. The reports from that investigation — two of which were also released ahead of the hearing — are incredibly damning. 

Those first two reports focus on Celgene, which is now owned by the drug company Bristol Myers Squibb, and its pricing of Revlimid, as well as another pharmaceutical company called Teva and its multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone. 

Among other things, both reports reveal how the massive profits these companies made have been the driving force in the huge price increases for these essential drugs. 

According to the reports, Teva has raised the price of Copaxone 27 times since 2007, and because of those price increases, an annual course of the drug now costs nearly $70,000  — seven times the $10,000 it cost in 1997. 

As for Revlimid, since 2005, Celgene has raised the price of the drug 22 times, from $215 per pill to $719, the report said. After Bristol Myers Squibb got the rights to Revlimid last November, it raised the price again, to $763 per pill. 

Those price hikes have been insanely profitable. As the reports outline, Copaxone has brought in more than $34 billion in net profits for Teva just in the U.S. alone. Meanwhile, just between 2009 and 2018, Celgene collected $51 billion in net revenues from Revlimid sales worldwide and $32 billion in the U.S. 

As Porter mentioned in the viral clip, the reports also found that those profits end up costing taxpayers and Medicare tens of billions of dollars, which are then used to pay generous executive bonuses.

Another hearing is set to be held Thursday with testimonies from other CEOs of other drug companies. The reports on those companies will be released ahead of the hearing as well.

Reports Contradict CEO Testimonies

In Wednesdays hearing, Alles, as well as the CEO of Teva, both defended the price hikes as above-board and merited.

“The pricing decisions for our medicines were guided by a set of long-held principles that reflected our commitment to patient access, the value of a medicine to patients in the health care system, the continuous efforts to discover new medicines and new uses for existing medicines and the need for financial flexibility,” Alles told the representatives.

However, Porter specifically asked Alles if the drug’s formula had been substantially improved from 2005 , when the pill cost $215, to now, when it costs three times more. Alles confirmed that the manufacturing for the drug had not changed, but said it had been approved for new uses.

Arguably even more damning is the fact that internal documents and emails included in the report showed that executives at both Celgene and Teva raised prices unrelated to costs in order to meet quarterly profit goals.

In one of the most explicit examples, the Celgene report notes that in 2014, Alles — who was then the executive vice president of the company — ordered the price of Revlimid be jacked up by 4% because the company had not met its first-quarter sales goals. Just days later, Alles gave a presentation to the company’s drug pricing advisory board that noted the increase would result in $24 million in new net sales.

As for Teva, the company’s CEO Kåre Schultz also defended the price jacking of Copaxone during the hearing, though he offered another explanation.

“In order for any pharmaceutical company to research and develop new drugs, or improve old ones, the price of successful medicines must reflect the significant cost of ongoing research and development projects,” he said. “The public only sees and pays for the drugs that are ultimately approved by the government, like Copaxone, but you have to expend a lot of resources and endure many disappointments before bringing to the market safe and effective medicines.”

The committee’s report on Teva also disputes that claim too. In fact, it specifically found that Teva has only spent $689 million on research related to Copaxone since 1987 — just 2% of the nearly $34 billion it has taken in net revenue for the drug.

Other Findings

Beyond the price hikes, the reports also gives the public what has been described as the clearest proof to date that large drug companies are engaged in anticompetitive behavior to force competitors out of the market.

In one of the most egregious examples, Teva put out a new, stronger version of Copaxone as part of what they referred to as a coordinated “generic defense strategy.” According to internal documents, that strategy included working with middlemen to block other generic drugs from getting market access, as well as launching aggressive campaigns to lobby doctors and patients to stick with the more expensive version of the drug.

To that point, the Congressional reports also show how these companies have lobbied extensively against regulations and reforms that would prevent them from ramping up drug prices. However, in providing the public with this information, the Democrats on the committee hope to push for substantial drug pricing reforms. 

In a letter prefacing the reports, Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-Ny.) emphasized the need for comprehensive legislation such as the drug price bill passed by the House back December known as H.R. 3, which would reform the system by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies over prices.

As Maloney notes, that bill essentially died in the Senate because President Donald Trump openly opposed it and Senate Republicans refused to even bring it for a vote. 

See what others are saying: (Stat News) (NBC News) (The Cut)

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Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains

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Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.


Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston

Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.

Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.

When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.

Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.

Signs That Went Unnoticed

The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.

On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.

Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.

I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.

She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.

Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.

Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.

“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”

Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges

According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.

After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.

At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.

Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.

ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.

On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.

Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.

See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)

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Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say

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The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.


COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card

Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.

Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.

On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.

The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.

Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.

The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.

Misuse of COVID Relief Funds

Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.

In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.

According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”

On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.

In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.

See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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