Senator Hatch Defends Pressure on Colombia in Interview Regarding Imatinib

Yesterday, Colombia’s W Radio aired an interview with Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, where he was asked about the reports of pressure on Colombia from the Senate Finance Committee, which he chairs, with regard to the compulsory license process for the expensive leukemia drug, imatinib.

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo)

Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, markets imatinib as Glivec in Colombia, at a price approximately twice the GNI per capita (World Bank, Atlas Method, 2014).

In response to media attention linking the Senator’s pressure on Colombia to his ties to the pharmaceutical industry, Hatch alleged that some of the articles that have been published are a “hit job” and an attempt to “smear” him. As reassurance of his “honest intentions,” he added that he only talks to Novartis once a year when they come by to say “hello.”

Q: Chairman Hatch, I’m sure you are aware of the big controversy in Colombia because of Novartis and their discussion with the Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria.

Hatch: I’ve acted with [unintelligible] very very honest intentions, and I’m one of the strong supporters of Colombia. That was a hit article by people who don’t know — who do know what they’re doing, they’re trying to smear me. When in fact, what we’re trying to do is make sure that we keep a viable, pharmaceutical industry that will continue to grow and prosper and help people all over the world, and I never even talked to Novartis — maybe once a year when they just come in to say “hello.”

When pressed on his industry connections, Senator Hatch claims to not know who actually funds his campaigns, “to be honest with ya.” Articles in The Intercept, Semana, and the Salt Lake Tribune, among others, offer clarification on this point.

With regard to the fact that the Colombian Embassy was left with the impression that funding for Paz Colombia would be at risk if Colombia were to proceed with the compulsory license, Hatch denied that this would be a likelihood.

The Senator then continued by saying that patents and data exclusivity are important in order to recoup R&D investments.

Q: Is Paz Colombia’s budget in threat, or in risk, because of the problem that is between the Minister of Health in Colombia and Novartis? I mean, because your Committee’s very important for our budget.

Hatch: No, I don’t think the budget is gonna be affected at all. The fact of the matter is Novartis — the reason we have patents in pharmaceutical law, the reason we have data exclusivity periods, is so that the companies can recoup the very expensive costs of developing these life-saving treatments and/or cures. And I wanna keep those lifesaving treatments and cures alive and going, and keep them coming forth, and if they can’t recoup their monies, they won’t do it. So there has to be a data exclusivity time that is sufficient for them to recoup the monies that they’ve expended, which, on average, in biologics, are about $2 billion, and it takes about 15 years to recoup those funds, even at reasonable rates. Now, I don’t want companies to overcharge either, and that’s why the Hatch-Waxman bill created the modern generic drug industry, to make sure that companies don’t overcharge. But, unless they can recoup their monies, they won’t be doing biologics, which are the best approach towards treatments and/or cures.

Q: Senator, I completely understand that debate, but what is not being understand [sic] right now in Colombia, is what does Paz Colombia has [sic] to do with this debate, or what the [U.S.-Colombia] trade agreement has to do with this debate, or the possibility of Colombia entering the TPP.

Hatch: I’m gonna be honest with ya, I don’t know that has anything to do with —

Q: It hasn’t —

Hatch: And that’s my point — that this was a hit job. [unintelligible] since my son was smeared in that article —

Note that imatinib is not a biologic drug. And Senator Hatch’s spurious logic regarding the need to recoup R&D investments is particularly flawed in the context of imatinib, which has already surpassed $47 billion in global sales (See: table here), according to Novartis’s annual reports and financial statements, since 2002. KEI has pointed out that approximately ninety percent of the early research was funded by NIH grants and charities, and Novartis’s risk-adjusted expenditures for phase II clinical trials are estimated at $38-96 million.

The high price of Gleevec has attracted the interest of filmmakers (Dying for Drugs), academic cancer researchers in the medical journal Blood, and a series of articles by journalists, including these two by Carolyn Y. Johnson in the Washington Post.

The audio for the interview may be heard here: http://www.wradio.com.co/escucha/archivo_de_audio/orrin-hatch-habla-a-la-w–sobre-su-polemica-cercania-con-novartis/20160524/oir/3141969.aspx

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