On drug pricing, Acorda CEO is optimistic

Cohen said he is more optimistic than he was a year ago about reaching a point in which companies can make a “fair profit” while also rebuilding the trust of the public and the government.

Acorda Therapeutics CEO Ron Cohen is pleased that Marathon Pharmaceuticals decided to pause the commercial activities of its new Duchenne muscular dystrophy treatment Emflaza in response to criticism of its high price tag.

“That's the sort of response that is helpful,” he said, during a call Tuesday with investors.

Last week, Marathon announced that Emflaza, its new DMD drug, would cost $89,000 per year. The announcement caused outrage from patient advocates and lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who accused Marathon of abusing the Orphan Drug Act, a program that grants drugmakers seven years of market exclusivity in exchange for bringing a rare-disease drug to market. A generic version of the drug, a corticosteroid, when sold outside the U.S., costs $1,200 per year, according to media reports.  

See also: House Oversight committee upbraids Turing, Valeant execs

Still, Cohen, a vocal proponent of the industry, said he is more optimistic than he was a year ago about reaching a point in which companies can make a “fair profit” while also rebuilding the trust of the public and the government.

He noted that Acorda has been collaborating with other parties such as PBMs, insurers, pharmacies, distributors, and hospitals, which he says should play a role in helping solve questions about drug pricing.

“We have been reaching out to other parties in the ecosystem to talk about — not finger-pointing — but how can we present reasonable proposals that will benefit everybody and also, frankly, keep the prime directive in mind, which is in addition to the fact that we are all or most of us are companies that need to show a profit eventually,” said Cohen.

The pharmaceutical industry has been criticized for setting high prices for its drugs. In August, Mylan was criticized of increasing the price of its auto-injector EpiPen by 400% over a seven-year period. And, in 2015, the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, Martin Shkreli, was under fire for a 5,000% price increase of Daraprim, a toxoplasmosis drug. He was later fired by Turing.

See also: CEO: Allergan will limit price increases for branded drugs

The fact that the pharmaceutical industry is facing tremendous pressure to bring down drug prices and extend access is “no secret,” said Cohen.

In the past, there was “a lot of finger pointing across different pieces of the system,” he added. But that strategy was ineffective and only allowed external parties to attack drug companies even more, he said.

Political leaders “want to make sure that the U.S. remains a leader in those areas … and that gives us a foundation for having constructive discussions,” he said.

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