Now that it’s peak mosquito season, fears of an outbreak of the mosquito-borne and sexually transmitted Zika virus in the U.S. are growing. Most people with a Zika infection may not even present symptoms. Nonetheless, pregnant women infected with the Zika virus have an increased risk of their babies being born with microcephaly. This condition results in an abnormally small head impairing brain development.
Meanwhile, Congress has been unable to prevent the situation from getting worse. Furthermore, lawmakers just went into a seven-week summer holiday without passing a $1.1 billion spending bill to fund the fight against the Zika virus. Another vote is scheduled on lawmakers’ first day back.
Last February, the Obama administration requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding for prevention and preparedness measures to protect against the spread of Zika. Top health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have been asking Congress to pass the bill to help the country prepare for Zika all year. Now comes news that a $1.1 billion funding package to prevent the spread of the Zika virus failed to advance in the Senate after Democrats blocked the measure.
Senate Democrats explained that they blocked the bill because Republican lawmakers had added provisions they couldn’t agree too—including new restrictions on Planned Parenthood funding to clinics in Puerto Rico and cuts to the Affordable Care Act. They also objected to budget offsets in the plan. Meanwhile, Republicans in the House countered that the administration needs to shift existing funds that were being used to fight Ebola, and said any new money needs to be offset. Now Congress is on break.
Although there are no documented Zika virus cases originating in the continental U.S., more than 1,300 travelers have brought the Zika virus to the U.S. from abroad. Furthermore, officials predict it’s only a matter of time before there is a Zika outbreak in the U.S., particularly in the Gulf Coast states. By the CDC’s count, there have already been nine births involving Zika-related birth defects in the continental U.S., and there are more than 340 pregnant women with the virus. Consequently, the number of babies with microcephaly born in the U.S. is sure to grow.
The Zika virus vaccine isn’t the only pharmaceutical effected—or soon to be effected—by government actions or inaction. With both U.S. presidential candidates promising action on drug prices, November’s election could trigger a sea change in the industry, Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez says in a Financial Times article. Indeed, Jimenez predicts pricing pressures in the U.S. will only increase when a new administration takes over—whether that administration is led by Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump.
“We believe that, no matter which candidate wins, we will see a more difficult pricing environment in the U.S.,” Jimenez told the Financial Times. “We all have to plan for new pricing models in the U.S. that could help us ensure the sustainability of the system as the population ages.”
Clinton has proposed a range of measures to crimp drug prices, including re-importation of meds—particularly those where U.S. prices are at least double those in other countries—under standards set by the FDA. Trump has also said he wants the U.S. to have access to imported drugs, Financial Times reports.
Jimenez has been a big proponent of pegging drug prices to their real-world results, Financial Times reports. He sees that approach as a way for drugmakers to capitalize on truly innovative, effective meds and discourage development of drugs that offer only incremental benefits. He also predicts that results-based drug payments would cut overall healthcare costs.
“If you move to that kind of pricing system over a period of years, you will be able to take out a lot of waste,” Jimenez says.
What are your thoughts on the spread of the Zika virus or potential changes to drug pricing?