What exactly does the American Health Care Act, the Republican proposal to replace Obamacare, currently look like? Few people know, because the Senate version is being negotiated behind closed doors in Washington D.C. without any public hearings.
We do know President Trump now thinks the version of the AHCA that squeaked through the House is “mean.” When he celebrated the House vote he called it “incredibly well crafted,” “really incredible,” and “ultimately a great plan.”
He’s not the only one with a change of heart. According to recent national polls, the AHCA doesn’t have majority support in any single state. But some unspecified form of the legislation lurches forward, possibly towards a Senate vote before Independence Day.
We’ve got the latest on the mysterious bill, a patient networking group’s thoughts on it, and the rest of this week’s healthcare and biotech news below. Let’s get to it.
LIVE, FROM CAPITOL HILL…
—A key Senate committee held a hearing on prescription drug prices Wednesday, but there wasn’t much drug-price talk. Democrats used it to scold Republicans for hammering out the Senate version of Trumpcare in secret. In fact, committee chair Lamar Alexander left during the hearing to meet with the president and other GOPers about the health bill. According to the Associated Press, during that meeting, Trump told senators to come up with something more humane because the House version was “mean.”
—Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a bill to require drug makers to justify their cost increases. Last month, he crafted legislature to make negotiations between drug makers and insurers’ agents, called pharmacy benefit managers, more transparent.
—Meanwhile, in its second poll since January, Cambridge, MA-based patient networking group PatientsLikeMe reported that a majority of its members—all of whom have chronic diseases like multiple sclerosis or major depressive disorder—don’t want to see the Affordable Care Act repealed.
—Politico reported Thursday that the White House is mulling an executive order on drug prices; top officials are meeting today.
—A Supreme Court decision this week could have an effect on drug prices. The justices voted unanimously to give Novartis’s generic unit Sandoz a victory over Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN), essentially saying Sandoz could move more quickly to bring an approved biosimilar (and cheaper) version of Amgen’s filgrastim (Neupogen) to market. Removing delays from biosimilars hitting the market could shave billions of dollars off drug costs in the long run.
—New York’s latest biotech incubator, LaunchLabs, debuted at the Alexandria Center for Life Science this week with 13 tenants. The facility joins a growing list of New York biotech startup spaces, but few options exist for companies that grow beyond incubation stage—something one Alexandria executive told Xconomy it is “actively working on.”
—Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) paid $33 million for an option to license up to four blood cancer drugs developed by Dragonfly Therapeutics, the Cambridge, MA, startup co-founded by cancer research pioneer Tyler Jacks and backed by an unusual group of family offices.
—British VC firm Medicxi tapped Novartis and Google to help back a new $300 million fund, Medicxi Growth 1, for growth-stage biotechs in Europe.
CLOSER TO THE HEART
—In a 10,142-patient study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Johnson & Johnson’s (NYSE: JNJ) diabetes drug canagliflozin (Invokana) cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes, but as Forbes reported here, it also increased the chance patients might have to get their toes amputated. A similar drug from Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY), empagliflozin (Jardiance), didn’t show such risk in a large trial a few years ago. AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) has its own study underway for rival dapagliflozin (Farxiga).
—The drug evaluation group ICER said that the anti-cholesterol drug evolocumab (Repatha) should be priced even lower than ICER’s previous recommendation from 2015, when evolocumab and its competitor alirocumab (Praluent) were approved. ICER issued its report after analyzing Amgen’s FOURIER study, which is following the progress of 27,000 patients on evolocumab.