US regulators can step in to ensure drug pricing both supports patient access and drug development
The United States represents the world’s largest market for pharmaceutical drugs. It is also the only advanced economy in the world that does not regulate drug prices. There is no upper threshold for the prices of medicines in the United States. List prices are instead set by manufacturers in negotiation with supply-chain intermediaries, though some federal programs have degrees of discretion in price determinations. In practice, this deregulated system means that drug prices in the United States are generally far higher than in other advanced economies, adversely affecting patient accessibility and system affordability. In this paper, we draw on the “theory of innovative enterprise” to develop a framework that provides both a critique of the existing pricing system in the United States and a foundation for developing a new model of pricing regulation to support safety and effectiveness through drug development as well as accessibility and affordability in the distribution of approved medicines to patients. We introduce a regulatory approach we term “Pricing for Medicine Innovation” (PMI), which departs dramatically from the market-equilibrium assumptions of conventional (neoclassical) economics. The PMI approach recognizes the centrality of collective investments by government agencies and business firms in the productive capabilities that underpin the drug development process. PMI specifies the conditions under which, at the firm level, drug pricing can support both sustained investment in these capabilities and improved patient access. PMI can advance both of these objectives simultaneously by regulating not just the level of corporate profit but also its allocation to reinvestment in the drug development process. PMI suggests that although price caps are likely to improve drug affordability, there remain two potential issues with this pricing approach. Firstly, in an innovation system where a company’s sales revenue is the source of its finance for further drug development, price caps may deprive a firm of the means to invest in innovation. Secondly, even with adequate profits available for investment in innovation, a firm that is run to maximize shareholder value will tend to use those profits to fund distributions to shareholders rather than for investment in drug innovation. We argue that, if implemented properly, PMI could both improve the affordability of medicines and enhance the innovative performance of pharmaceutical companies.