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Pfizer CEO On Trump, Drug Prices And The FDA

President Trump made a campaign promise to lower the price of prescription drugs. After meeting with several big pharmaceutical companies last week, the president emerged with different plans to do that, from reducing taxes to cutting back regulations.

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Ian Read, the CEO of Pfizer, one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, about drug prices, the Food and Drug Administration and how Pfizer is adjusting to the new administration.

Interview Highlights

On the Affordable Care Act’s future

“I don’t really have a clear sight on the way through. I do believe it does need to be reformed. The insurance is not good insurance for the average person, they get high deductibles and they don’t have good access to modern medicine, so it does need reform. But I don’t have a view on where it’s gonna go.

“…The pharmaceutical industry is about 12 percent of overall health care costs. And while I’m aware of the impact of that insurance on the way that medicines are covered, it’s very complicated, and very connected to what providers need, and insurers need, and payers and patients, so everybody looks at a small part of that pie, and no one really looks at it holistically.”

On how much the Affordable Care Act’s future matters to the company

“Well in the sense that we have not seen a huge benefit to our business from the Affordable Care Act, there was sort of an implied promise from the government that, if we paid all these fees and all these taxes to help fund the Affordable Care Act, there would be expanded business through the people who are getting insured. Frankly, most of the expanded insurance base do not use innovative products, because the insurance is not of a great quality.”


On a potential change in federal policy on negotiating drug prices

“Let me say firstly, the drug prices are negotiated every day. It’s not as if you produce a new drug, and you bring it to market and you say, ‘Here’s my price.’ You’ve gotta get the Uniteds and the PBMs and the Humanas of the world to agree that your product has value, and to list it informally, and what position informally. And Medicare’s probably one of the most successful programs since its inception, it’s come 40 percent under budget, and I believe that the premiums per person have only increased, on average, about $6 since its inception. So that’s an example of tremendous negotiation from the private sector to ensure that Medicare is a program that meets patients’ needs, and I think it has an 80 percent approval by the recipients of Medicare.”

On President Trump’s comments toward individual companies

“I haven’t had any firsthand experience of it. I think every president has his own personality and his own way of working. I’m enthusiastic about some of the potential changes in the health care arena that he’s proposing — both tax changes and both reducing regulations and trying to get American jobs back into America if he changes the tax code. And I’m looking forward to seeing how he works with Congress on that.”

On Pfizer’s attempted merger with Allergan

“I would like to point out that, what we were attempting to do there was a direct cause of the tax code in the U.S., which so penalizes U.S. companies that have overseas companies. We were just trying to get a level playing field with our European and Asian competitors, I mean it’s absurd. If we bring money back that we’ve made abroad — which is already paid taxes — and we wanna invest it in the U.S., sometimes we have to pay up to an extra 30 percent of tax. Foreign companies don’t do that, they can bring back all the cash they like from overseas and invest it in the U.S. without any further tax. So I was just looking for a level playing field, and an ability to invest more in America.”

On FDA regulations

“Let’s start with saying, clearly there’s a role for the FDA making sure products are safe, and all products have a balance between their safety and how efficacious they are. So I respect that from the FDA. The problem is the FDA’s incentivated [sic] by the nature of the organization to be totally risk averse. They never get applauded, they never get congratulated because they brought a product early to market, like Ibrance, which is the oncology division of the FDA, which is a pretty good example of how a really good regulator should work — brings products forward, accelerates them, gets them out to treat patients. But the FDA never gets applauded for that. They only get pilloried if the product goes wrong. So they’re totally risk averse.”

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