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EpiPen price increase draws criticism from Hillary Clinton, others

WASHINGTON — The White House on Wednesday said pharmaceutical firms risked damaging their reputations with big price hikes, but it sidestepped commenting directly on Mylan NV’s decision to raise the price of its severe allergy treatment drug EpiPen.

EpiPens are injection devices used to ward off potentially fatal allergic reactions, and the price has surged in recent years. A two-dose package cost around $60 nine years ago. The average cost was more than six times that in May, according to the Elsevier Clinical Solutions’ Gold Standard Drug Database.

“I’m obviously not going to make specific comments to specifically second guess the pricing strategy … of one private enterprise,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a news briefing Wednesday. “I will observe, however, that pharmaceutical companies that often try to portray themselves as the inventors of life-saving medication often do real damage to their reputation by being greedy and jacking up prices.”

Hillary Clinton called on pharmaceutical company Mylan NV to voluntarily drop the price of EpiPen.

“That’s outrageous — and it’s just the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers,” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said in a statement. “It’s wrong when drug companies put profits ahead of patients, raising prices without justifying the value behind them.”

Members of Congress have demanded more information on why the price for lifesaving EpiPens has skyrocketed.

Three U.S. senators are taking the $24 billion drug firm to task for jacking up the cost of its anaphylaxis treatment more than fivefold since 2008. An investigation could hit Mylan where it hurts.

The company’s marketing machine has made the American public well aware of the dangers of anaphylaxis while creating a deep association between the condition and EpiPen as a solution. So patients ask for them by name and doctors prescribe them. The device accounts for over 90 percent of the auto-injector market.

Rivals have done a poor job trying to break Mylan’s lock on the business: the offering from its closest competitor is harder to use; Sanofi pulled its device from the market; and regulators forced Teva to delay the launch of its version.

EpiPen probably provides 20 percent or more of the company’s profit, analysts reckon. It has also provided a big chunk of its growth. About half of the company’s $189 million increase in second-quarter revenue from the same period last year probably came from selling more EpiPens at higher prices.

Lawmaker criticism may be theatrical, but can be effective. Senator Richard Blumenthal was a co-sponsor of legislation that encouraged public schools to carry emergency treatments for anaphylaxis. He is now calling for the company to lower prices.

Mylan may hope its political sway can shield it from some political fallout. Chief executive Heather Bresch is the daughter of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. And the company can point out that few customers pay the list price.

But scrutiny may encourage once friendly legislators to adopt less favorable policies — for example, encouraging regulators to approve generic drugs and medical devices more quickly. The bigger danger is the company is forced to go easy on price increases on EpiPen and its other drugs.

Mylan has plowed substantial sums in recent years into acquisitions and producing biologic drugs. Investors already have doubts about this strategy, pegging the stock at less than eight times estimated 2017 earnings, compared to 15 times at rival Allergan. Political controversy may send this multiple even lower.

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