FTC challenges Big Pharma over unfair patents as Sanders applauds regulatory crackdown

The Federal Trade Commission intensifies its fight against pharmaceutical patent abuses, aiming to slash drug prices and increase access to generic medications.

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched a decisive campaign against what it terms ‘junk’ patents, with the pharmaceutical industry’s pricing strategies under rigorous scrutiny. This bold move, supported by the Biden administration and championed by Senator Bernie Sanders, targets patents that unfairly block generic drugs from entering the market, particularly highlighting the case with Ozempic, a popular diabetes medication produced by Novo Nordisk.

At the heart of the FTC’s action is a challenge to over 300 patents listed in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Orange Book, which catalogs drug patents purportedly to inform generic manufacturers and prevent litigation. However, the FTC argues that many of these patents are improperly listed, serving only to prolong the monopoly periods of brand-name pharmaceuticals, thus keeping prices artificially high. The drugs in question span various categories, including treatments for diabetes, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Senator Bernie Sanders, a long-standing critic of the pharmaceutical industry’s pricing practices, has been vocal in his support for the FTC’s latest actions. As chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Sanders has spearheaded numerous initiatives aimed at reducing the cost of prescription drugs. Just last week, the HELP Committee launched an inquiry into the pricing strategies of Novo Nordisk concerning Ozempic and Wegovy, another drug used in the treatment of obesity.

Sanders highlighted the stark price discrepancies between the U.S. and other countries, noting, “I look forward to working with the Biden administration to take on the greed of Novo Nordisk and substantially reduce the price of Ozempic and other prescription drugs.” In the U.S., Ozempic costs around $969, whereas the same drug is available for just $155 in Canada and $59 in Germany.

Under the leadership of FTC Chair Lina Khan, the commission sent warning letters to ten major pharmaceutical companies, including industry giants like AstraZeneca and Novartis, besides Novo Nordisk. The letters call into question the validity of patents that the FTC believes are used strategically to stifle competition and maintain high drug prices. Khan stated, “By filing bogus patent listings, pharma companies block competition and inflate the cost of prescription drugs, forcing Americans to pay sky-high prices for medicines they rely on.”

The FTC’s crackdown could have significant implications for patients, particularly those dependent on medications for chronic conditions. By facilitating easier market entry for generic drugs, the initiative promises to lower prices and improve access to vital medications. Healthcare experts predict that if generics for drugs like Ozempic become widely available, it could save the U.S. healthcare system billions of dollars annually in prescription drug costs.

The pharmaceutical industry has been quick to respond, with several companies defending their patent practices as essential for recouping the high costs associated with drug development. However, the tide may be turning as public and political pressure mounts for more transparent and ethical pricing practices in the sector. Future legal battles are likely as companies may challenge the FTC’s findings, potentially setting the stage for significant reforms in how drug patents are handled in the U.S.

As Sanders emphasizes, the fight is fundamentally about “taking on the greed of Novo Nordisk and substantially reducing the price of Ozempic and other prescription drugs.”

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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

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