Elizabeth Warren Put the Pharmaceutical Industry in Its Place

March 17th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

On Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned the interim CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals — a drug company made infamous after its former CEO, Martin Shkreli, raised the price of a lifesaving drug from $13.50 to $750 per pill last year — about the ethics of drug pricing practices.  The exchange took place at a Senate hearing that involved several pharmaceutical executives. 

Senate hearing

"I think that charging patients so much for a drug that they can't afford it is unethical," Warren said at a Senate hearing. "It was unethical when Turing did it and it is just as unethical when the rest of the pharmaceutical industry jacks up drug prices, and they routinely do it."

Warren directed her questions at the interim CEO of Turing, Ronald Tilles, who replaced Shkreli after he was arrested by FBI agents on securities fraud charges in December. Shkreli denies all charges.

Shkreli also claims that the price hike is misunderstood — that the company increased the price of Daraprim in order to raise revenue for research purposes.

Like Shkreli, Tilles maintained that the majority of patients prescribed Dararprim are still able to afford the drug and that the company has programs in place to financially assist those who are unable to afford it. But Warren came down hard on that point, making the argument that testimony from patients proved that the programs have been ineffective.

"Almost no patient pays that price," Tilles said.

"Saying 'almost' is not very good if it’s your child who’s in trouble," Warren replied. "You can’t just shove this off. You have people who can’t afford it."

This problem is much larger than one drug company.

pharmaceutical industry

Warren goes on to describe how "unethical" drug pricing practices represent an industry-wide problem that pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, Biogen, Amgen, and Pfizer have also come under fire for in recent months. ATTN: previously reported on the troubling industry trend, which is largely related to the fact that drug prices are not regulated by the U.S. government.

"This happens again and again," Warren said. "The pharmaceutical market may be producing giant profits for drug companies, but it is not working for the American people. Congress needs to take action on this to make sure that this market functions for patients, and I hope to be a full partner in those efforts."

Watch the full hearing here.

RELATED: Why Martin Shkreli Might Actually Lead to Progress