President Trump signed the “Right to Try” Act on Wednesday. When digging beneath the surface, there appears to be a potential political motive behind his signature.
It could be easily argued that terminally ill patients have a right to try drugs still in the experimental stage not yet approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and the bill would allow this to take place, giving people in late stages of illness another chance at life.
“People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure — I want to give them a chance right here at home,” President Trump stated.
However, the Right to Try Act will undoubtedly have an impact on the profits of the biggest pharmaceutical companies, whose products will now no longer need to wait for full FDA approval if a terminally ill patient wants to try their products in an effort to improve their condition.
According to a 2005 survey from the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, seven in 10 Americans die from chronic disease, and more than 90 million Americans are currently living with at least one chronic disease. This means a potentially huge new market for big pharma. Trump’s signature on the Right to Try Act proved to be beneficial for the stock prices of some of the largest drug manufacturers.
As of the Wednesday closing bell, all of the biggest publicly traded pharmaceutical companies saw gains in their stock price, including Pfizer, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Sanofi SA, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co., and Abbott Laboratories:
During the signing ceremony for the Right to Try Act, Trump also suggested that he was counting on pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily lower the prices of their products of their own volition. This is a stark departure from his rhetoric about drug prices on the campaign trail in 2016 and early on in his presidency. Shortly before his inauguration, then-President-elect Trump said that drug companies were “getting away with murder,” causing pharma stocks to briefly nosedive.
However, the “American Patients First” program that the Trump administration rolled out falls far short of reining in prescription drug prices. As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explained on his blog, the White House is simply calling on other countries to relax their controls of drug prices in their home countries, betting on big pharma voluntarily lowering drug prices once other countries allow them to charge whatever they want.
“This is nonsensical,” Reich wrote. “It would just mean more profits for U.S. drug companies.”
Taking a closer look at President Trump’s upcoming schedule suggests that he and the Republican Party may be attempting to win over big pharma’s money ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, in which Democrats are expected to win back control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate.
On June 19, at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, President Trump will address a crowd of well-heeled Republican donors at the America First Action leadership summit — a two-day conference hosted by Trump’s super PAC.
According to Politico, tickets are an astronomical $100,000 just to attend the talk, with donors being given the option to spend $250,000 for “VIP” status. The super PAC has already begun sending out invitations to some of the wealthiest donors, and high-profile Republican members of Congress are expected to attend as well, suggesting donors are being asked to pony up campaign money to help the GOP maintain their majorities:
The conference is expected to draw a number of Republican members of Congress, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, and Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., is expected to appear, as well.
According to campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics (OpenSecrets), Reps. McCarthy and Walden are some of the top recipients of donations from Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) — drug manufacturers’ chief lobbying arm in Washington. In the 2018 cycle, Rep. Walden has received $9,000, and Majority Leader McCarthy has received $7,500.
OpenSecrets also shows that the Pharmaceuticals/Health Products industry has so far given more than $6.3 million to Democrats and $7.8 million to Republicans in the 2018 cycle alone. Both parties will likely be angling for donations from big pharma as November draws closer in order to stay competitive in tight races.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.