Drug Prices and FDA Reform on Trump’s Radar

Fran Quigley

President Donald Trump’s meeting with pharmaceutical industry executives on 31 January signalled his intention to force down drug prices, but as a sweetener to the industry he is also looking at easing drug regulatory processes.

Reports of the meeting included contradictory and seemingly ill-informed statements that confused anyone trying to discern how the new President will respond to the global medicines access crisis.

On the heartening side, Trump stated that “(prescription drug) pricing has been astronomical,” a diagnosis that is both accurate and consistent with his pre-inauguration indictment of the industry for “getting away with murder.” He vowed, “we have to get lower prices.”

But his remarks on drug pricing seem to be arguing with themselves—he also condemned “foreign price controls” on medicines, even though he has promised to insist on similar negotiation in the US Medicare program.

Trump also said, “Our trade policy will prioritize that foreign countries pay their fair share for US-manufactured drugs, so our drug companies have greater financial resources to accelerate development of new cures—I think that’s so important!” This would appear to signal a continuation of the ruinous US trade policies that place corporate profits and medicine monopolies over access to lifesaving drugs. The pharmaceutical industry’s positive reaction to the Trump meeting suggests they read his remarks that way, too. Access to medicines in countries unable to pay market prices for US-manufactured medicines is likely to become even more difficult.

The pharmaceutical sector welcomed Trump’s pledge to reduce regulations and make the process of getting new drugs to market easier. “We’re also gonna be streamlining the process so that from your standpoint, when you have a drug, you can actually get it approved if it works instead of waiting for many, many years,” Trump said. He will soon name an FDA commissioner who will be “streamlining” the Food and Drug Administration, a move that raises concerns about the quality, effectiveness, and safety of new medicines.

While Trump’s presidency is still remarkably new, he has not yet shown the same willingness to take promised actions against corporate overreach the way he has with, say, refugee families.

In the meantime, neither Congressional Republicans nor Representative Tom Price, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, have shown interest in adopting any meaningful medicine access reforms. But hope springs eternal. If Trump decides he ever wants to match his words with deeds, we explained here how he could quickly and effectively lower drug prices in the United States.

Fran Quigley is a clinical professor and director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and coordinator of People of Faith for Access to Medicines. His book, A Prescription for Change: 22 Reasons Why Our Medicines System is Sick and How We Can Cure It, will be published by Cornell University Press in 2017.