Federal legislation seeks to prevent ‘pandemic profiteering’

Several members of Congress have proposed legislation to ensure treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19 are affordable, and that taxpayer funding of drug research is more transparent.

The lawmakers say they want to prevent price gouging and increase federal oversight of drugmakers as efforts to create effective treatments and a vaccine ramp up.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who is a sponsor of one of the two bills, said the track record of companies charging high prices for prescription drugs is reason for concern.

“Now, during a global health crisis, many pharmaceutical companies will see another opportunity to benefit themselves by ‘pandemic profiteering.’ That cannot stand,” she said in a statement Monday.

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Her bill would prohibit monopolies on new taxpayer-funded COVID-19 drugs and would require the federal government “to mandate reasonable, affordable pricing” of new drugs to treat or diagnose the virus.

It would also require manufacturers to publicly report a breakdown of spending related to drug development and the use of federal funds.

A second bill, sponsored by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, would step up oversight of federal dollars used to create new drugs.

The legislation would allow taxpayers to track, through a database, where federal funds related to drug development are going.

Other co-sponsors of the new legislation include Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. Both took part in Monday’s conference call.

“A public health crisis should not be allowed to be a for-profit bonanza,” DeLauro said during the call.

Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., also supports the legislation.

Pharmaceutical companies have defended their work, and some have pledged to be fair when it comes to pricing. Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson released a statement saying it was “committed to bringing an affordable vaccine” to the public.

The drug remdesivir has been used to treat COVID-19, and a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed it shortened hospital patients’ recovery time from 15 to 11 days.

Lawmakers noted that the federal supply of remdesivir is expected to run out soon, possibly at the end of this month.

Gilead Sciences, which produces remdesivir, announced Monday that it will soon begin testing an inhalable version of the drug. Currently, it’s only given intravenously in hospitals.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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