As much as anyone watching the first US presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden can be said to be satisfied, the pharmaceutical industry should probably feel pretty good about the evening since they avoided much critical attention.
Any negative feelings generated from watching the 29 September debate were probably directed at the candidates, with Trump belligerently talking over Biden on multiple occasions and an unsteady Biden frequently offering incomplete thoughts even when he wasn’t being interrupted.
Pharma came up twice during the 90 minute debate, once during the segment on health care, and once during the segment on the coronavirus pandemic. Naturally, Trump did most of the talking.
Asked by the moderator, Fox News host Chris Wallace, what was his “comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare,” Trump said, “I'm cutting drug prices. I'm going with favorite nations, which no president has the courage to do because you're going against big pharma. Drug prices will be coming down 80 or 90%,” Then, turning to Biden, he said, “You could have done it during your 47-year period in government but you didn't do it. Nobody's done it.”
Trump offered insulin as an example. “It was destroying families, destroying people. … I'm getting it for so cheap. It's like water,” he said, presumably referring to a few different administration initiatives on insulin that pharma has found largely unbothersome. (Also see "Playing The Trump Card On Rx Pricing" - Pink Sheet, 24 Sep, 2020.)
Pharma probably let the brief attack run like water off a duck’s back, since Wallace directed the discussion to Biden, who tried to describe how his health insurance reform plan was different than Medicare For All and said of Trump, “He hasn't lowered drug costs for anybody.” (Also see "Does Biden Bode Well For Pharma? Convention Sets Promising Tone For Campaign" - Pink Sheet, 21 Aug, 2020.)
Vaccine Hurry And Hesitancy
Industry practices were again discussed when the debate turned to COVID-19 and Wallace asked Trump, who earlier in the debate had said “now we're weeks away from a vaccine,” why he promised such an optimistic timeline when his top scientific advisors have said that a vaccine probably wouldn’t be widely available until the middle of next year.
Trump repeated his recent accusation that approval delays are politically motivated. (Also see "Hahn Says COVID Vaccine Review Could Take Months As Trump Floats Rejecting New EUA Guidance" - Pink Sheet, 23 Sep, 2020.)
“I've spoken to the companies and we can have it a lot sooner,” Trump said. “It's a very political thing, because people … would rather make it political than save lives. … I've spoken to Pfizer; I’ve spoken to all of the people that you have to speak to – Moderna, Johnson and Johnson and others. They can go faster than that by a lot.”
Wallace asked Biden a similar question. “You say the public can trust the scientists but they can't trust President Trump. In fact, you said that again tonight. You're running mate, Senator Harris, goes further, saying the public health experts, ‘will be muzzled, will be suppressed.’ Given the fact that polls already show that people are concerned about the vaccine and are reluctant to take it, are you and your running mate Senator Harris contributing to that fear?”
Biden had a quick answer: “No more than the question you just asked him. You pointed out he puts pressure [on] and disagrees with his own scientists.” But then Biden struggled to explain Harris’ remarks in more detail.
The performance of the candidates probably doesn’t leave anyone looking forward to the subsequent debates, but pharma should hope that they resemble the first one at least when it comes to how much attention drug pricing gets, and how much respect their coronavirus research efforts receive. And if the candidates are asked at some point to explain the dichotomy between their attacks on and praise for industry, then that debate might just be close to perfect for pharma.