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Lowering drug prices can stifle innovation

Rep. Lela Alston’s recent editorial (“Prescription Drug Solutions Overdue, Sinema and Kelly Must Act”) spoke a lot about the need to lower the cost of medications, but it unfortunately mentioned very little about the effect that would have on the development of new and better medications for patients. Yes, I think we can all agree that aiming to lower costs for our medications should be a priority, but it is equally important that we do not do it at the cost of limiting patient access or hampering the innovation patients are counting on.    

Barbara Kavanagh

Alston, a Phoenix Democrat, also mentioned a small piece of the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) report on lowering prescription drugs. What she failed to mention is that the overarching takeaway from the report, and one that caught the attention of patient groups like ours across the nation, was that the CBO found that as many as 59 fewer drugs would hit the market if the government steps in to negotiate drug prices. Let’s not forget what these medications can do. They can change and potentially save lives.   

In the past 10 years there has been a dramatic increase in the discovery of new and more effective drugs. We’ve seen so many breakthroughs when it comes to treating all diseases. Just this year, we’ve seen advancements in medications that can treat Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and cancer. Do we really want to slow down our innovation when it comes to treating patients? My husband is now a 30-year survivor of multiple myeloma. When he was diagnosed in 1991, there was only one therapy/drug available, and we were told he had 1-3 years to live. Since then, there have been dozens of new treatments and therapies developed and with each new discovery, thousands of cancer patients and families are given a lifeline of hope. 

There is a reason neither Democrat nor Republican administrations have tried to interfere in drug price negotiation. It’s not a partisan issue when patients’ lives are on the line, desperate for cures. Our scientific community deserves to give these patients a chance. If the government interferes and starts picking winners and losers in which medications are available, everyone loses.   

 We’ve all seen firsthand how innovation in biotech has benefited our country. The Covid vaccines introduced in such a record time should not be taken for granted. We’ve lost over 700,000 Americans to Covid, and who knows how much greater that number would be if not for the vaccines. Furthermore, we are now finding that some of the drugs that worked for cancer and other diseases also work for treating Covid or at least reduces the symptoms and reduces hospitalizations. At our cancer charity, the Arizona Myeloma Network, we help not only all cancer patients but their cancer caregivers and families. Our patients are of all ages and backgrounds and educating them about their cancer and sending them to the best doctor and treatment resource, they can benefit from these medications which are often lifesaving.   

We should be looking to put patients first, and all stakeholders should come together, including insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers, to create solutions so patients can get the treatment they deserve at prices they can afford. Proposals like “out-of-pocket” caps on medications and passing rebates from the drug manufacturer directly to the consumer at the pharmacy counter should be explored and supported by those in Congress. Patients deserve to have affordable medications and a system that supports innovation.   

Barbara Kavanagh is the founder and CEO of the Arizona Myeloma Network. 



  1. Big Pharma would no doubt agree with this article but I ask one question:
    Why not equalize the prices among the United States and all the other nations in which the proprietary drugs are sold? Medicare, probably the largest single customer, has been prevented from negotiating a fair price by multimillion dollar lobbying by Pharma. This is not true in other countries so our people are subsidizing them for no reason I can understand. Unfortunately the decision on what medications are prescribed for me are often ruled by price rather than effectiveness.

  2. While I welcome a discussion that might help lead to lower drug prices while retaining sufficient innovation, Ms. Kavanaugh misrepresents the CBO report that she highlights. More specifically it’s 59 drugs over THIRTY YEARS. 2 drugs in the first 10 years (0.5%), 23 drugs in the next 10 years (5%) and 34 drugs in the third decade (8%). So more than 90% of new drugs would still be produced. In addition, it’s well known that many drugs may be new but offer little or no effectiveness over prior drugs, so these drugs which might be lost are not necessarily gamechangers. Finally, as our experience with COVID has demonstrated, there are numerous ways for government to partner with pharmaceutical manufacturers to meet medical needs–and price points were part of that partnership in exchange for research monies that were more than matched in the private sector.

    We have too many people in this country who cannot afford drugs they need to survive or maintain a decent quality of life–and we must work diligently to find evidence-based solutions that will also enable to the development of future breakthroughs.

    The full link to the CBO report is here (the link in the article didn’t work)

    Dave Wells
    Research Director
    Grand Canyon Institute

    (opinions expressed are my own–though GCI backs evidence-based policy solutions)

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