- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2018

President Trump’s health secretary ordered the Food and Drug Administration Thursday to explore ways to safely import drugs to protect Americans from sudden price hikes, though in limited circumstances.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the working group will look at drugs made by only one manufacturer and that are not protected by patents or other exclusive rights, so the drugmaker’s intellectual property isn’t diluted and competitors would be spurred to step in.

Administrations have resisted calls to import a range of drugs from Canada or other countries, citing safety risks, though Mr. Azar said it could be appropriate in narrow situations, as he tries to carry out Mr. Trump’s push to drive down drug prices.

“When HHS released the President’s Blueprint for putting American patients first, I said we are open to all potential solutions — assuming they are effective, safe for patients, and respect choice, innovation, and access,” Mr. Azar said. “Importation may well fit that bill in some instances.”

“We have seen a number of both branded and generic examples in recent years where a single manufacturer dramatically hikes the price for a drug unprotected by patent or exclusivities,” he added.

Mr. Azar cited the case of Daraprim, which was approved by the FDA in 1953 and saw its price skyrocket by 5,000 percent in 2015.

The drug treats toxoplasmosis, a parasite infection, and is used by cancer and AIDs patients with compromised immune systems.

Martin Shrkeli, the brash “pharma bro” who ran afoul of the law on securities fraud charges, led the drug’s maker — Turing Pharmaceuticals — at the time of the increase.

It was held up by members of Congress and others as a prime example of runaway price increases in the pharmaceutical world.

Prominent Republicans praised the move to explore importation as a way around price hikes.

“Today’s announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services shows movement in the right direction in the fight against high drug prices, but it’s long overdue,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said. “This has been an ongoing problem for more than 20 years and it’s way past time to make real progress and help millions of Americans who struggle to pay exorbitant prices for their medications. I encourage this task force to work quickly and efficiently so they can move forward with providing Americans real relief.”

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