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US Pharma and Biotech Summit 2024: The 2024 Presidential Election and the Pharma Industry

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In an interview with Pharm Exec Associate Editor Don Tracy, Robert Zirkelback, Chief Public Affairs Officer, Head of Strategic Initiatives, PhRMA discusses the upcoming United States presidential election and the potential impact that it could have on the pharma industry.

PE: What is upcoming in the pharma industry that you are the most excited for?

Zirkelback: Well, the most exciting thing is clearly the science. I mean, there has never been a better time to prevent, treat or cure disease than right now, and that's just tremendously exciting. The reality is that too many patients don't have treatments to effectively manage their conditions, and our healthcare system needs it. One of the things that gets lost in a lot of the conversations we have around health care these days is the fact that the cost of treating chronic disease is going to bankrupt our healthcare system unless we find new treatments to actually tackle the underlying conditions that patients are facing. Alzheimer's alone will cost the healthcare system a trillion dollars by 2050 unless we're able to tackle those costs. The best way to do that is through innovation, new treatments, and cures. It’s exciting to hear about all of the innovations and new treatments coming to the market.

PE: What type of impact do you think each individual candidate may have on drug pricing if they were to be elected?

Zirkelback: I don't have a crystal ball. If I did, I would have a different job. There’s a couple of things that we think are critical though. Number one is we need to make sure we protect and preserve the ecosystem that enables the United States to be the global leader in bringing new medicines to the marketplace and ensuring patients can get access to them. We've had very serious concerns about some of the cumulative impact of the policies that we've seen from this administration, whether it's undermining IP rights, whether it's upending the world leading regulatory system we have by allowing medicines to be imported from other countries, or things like the Inflation Reduction Act that are going to have a chilling effect on the type of innovation that patients need. We hope that whatever candidate wins will focus on how we can actually strengthen the US ecosystem that is the envy of the rest of the world.

The other thing we need to do is make sure that we actually enable patients to be able to get the medicines that their doctors say they need. We have too many barriers that exist to patients today, whether its middlemen taking up 30% of healthcare costs, the insurance barriers that exist, and we need to make sure that patients can get the care that they need so that they can stay healthy. We can prevent a lot of other health care costs in the system.

PE: What do you think could happen with the Inflation Reduction Act? Depending on the outcome, can you see it being repealed or expanded upon?

Zirkelback: That's really up to the candidates. President Biden has said he wants to expand the Inflation Reduction Act. We have significant concerns with that, because of the impact that we’re already starting to see in terms of patient care and the impact on innovation, what new medicines might be able to come to the market. We hope the policymakers will work together to try to fix the big flaws in the system. One of the most important things policymakers can do is to address what's called a pill penalty that exists in the legislation where they're going to price medicines that come in a pill or tablet form far earlier than biologics, and that’s important for a few reasons. First off, pills are more convenient for patients. They're also often the most effective treatment for certain diseases like cancer or mental health, and we don’t want to be driving innovation away from those types of medicines. It doesn't make any sense to say we're going to pick some medicines and place at them earlier than others. It’s already shifting where companies and investors are putting their money in terms of the types of treatments that are going to come into the market and its patients that ultimately lose. So, let’s start by fixing the field penalty and trying to have a system that works better for patients.

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