High price of Alzheimer's drug aducanumab sparks talk of bipartisan drug reform

A top senator criticized Biogen’s $56,000 price tag for a controversial new Alzheimer’s disease drug and revived calls for a bipartisan approach to fixing drug prices.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, slammed the price for the drug aducanumab, which goes by the brand name Aduhelm and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this week. The accelerated approval comes after FDA advisers questioned the effectiveness of the treatment.

“There is little data showing it actually does what the company says it will do,” said Wyden during a Thursday hearing of the Senate Finance Committee. “Despite that, Aduhelm has an unconscionable list price of $56,000 per year.”

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Wyden said the drug developed by Biogen and Eisai is not a cure “like some other recent breakthrough drugs have been. Patients could be on Aduhelm for years at a time, multiplying the overall cost of treatment.”

The drug became the first treatment approved for Alzheimer’s in nearly two decades, but only to reduce amyloid plaques that could make the disease worse and not to improve cognitive benefits.

Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Thursday he is working on an update to prescription drug legislation that he championed in the last Congress alongside Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

That legislation would have lowered out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part D beneficiaries and capped any increases on Part D drugs above inflation.

Wyden said he is welcoming ideas “of all members” of the committee.

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Any legislation would likely have a greater chance of getting bipartisan support than a bill introduced in the House in April that gives Medicare the power to negotiate for lower drug prices. That legislation does not have enough support among Senate Republicans to become law.

Grassley said during the hearing that he hopes that President Joe Biden will aim for a more bipartisan approach to the issue.

Biden has endorsed the idea of giving Medicare the power to negotiate for lower prices, but he did not include it in his recent budget request to Congress.