A battle of titans will have the undivided attention of the pharma industry next month as Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel is set to testify before a senate panel led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-VT.)

On Wednesday afternoon, Sanders announced that Bancel agreed to appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in a hearing on March 22 at 10 a.m. EST.  

At issue is Moderna’s reported consideration of raising the price of Spikevax, its COVID-19 vaccine, to between $110 to $130 per dose. 

However, following sustained public criticism from Sanders and other progressives on Capitol Hill, Moderna made an about-face Wednesday and vowed that Americans would not have to pay for its COVID-19 vaccine. 

For Sanders, a longtime critic of the business practices of the pharmaceutical industry and leading advocate for a Medicare for All-style healthcare system in the U.S., this hearing and price hike reversal is a significant moment. 

By taking the helm of the Senate HELP Committee, many industry observers have expected Sanders to use the platform to shape federal health policy and further advance drug-pricing regulations that have started to gain bipartisan support in recent years.  

In addition to Moderna’s consideration of a price hike for its COVID-19, (which Pfizer announced last month ahead of the Biden administration’s decision to end the public health emergency on May 11), Sanders has made no secret of his disdain for Bancel’s considerable net worth. 

Bancel’s personal net worth is estimated at $5.52 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In conjunction with a press release announcing the upcoming hearing, the HELP committee’s majority staff released a report detailing the growth in pharma CEO compensation packages during the pandemic. 

Sanders has also accused Bancel of profiting off the company’s sales of the COVID-19 vaccine which were developed with federal funding as part of Operation Warp Speed during a pandemic that claimed the lives of more than 1.1 million Americans. 

“The Moderna vaccine was co-developed between Moderna and [the National Institutes of Health] and received billions of dollars in assistance, guaranteed sales, and you know what’s happened in the last couple of years. The CEO of Moderna is now worth $6 billion. All their top executives are worth billions. And now they are threatening to quadruple prices. This is a company that was highly supported by taxpayers of this country. And that’s one example of many,” Sanders told Kaiser Health News last week. 

The call to testify on drug pricing and subsequent pivot in business strategy is yet another example of the changing tides of Big Pharma’s public perception.

Following a surge in reputation associated with the work done to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, many drugmakers are returning to a ‘new normal’ as the virus fades into endemicity. 

A recent survey conducted by Caliber found that both Moderna and Pfizer saw their reputations slide compared to the 2022 rankings.

Additionally, prior to Bancel’s testimony, Moderna is scheduled to host its Q4 2022 earnings call on February 23.