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Michael Bloomberg’s radical plan to cut prescription drug costs

January 28, 2020, 11:44 PM UTC

In recent years, the rising cost of prescription drugs has been top of mind for consumers and politicians alike. Now Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg is in on the discussion, citing price increases at a rate five times higher than inflation for 3,400 drugs during the first six months of 2019.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg suggested proposed upending the number of patents a therapy can benefit from as a way to slash the cost of prescription drugs. In fact, Bloomberg’s proposal would restrict new brand name medications to just one patent.

That would limit companies to one 20-year patent period for new branded pharmaceuticals. Right now they can also extend their market dominance by establishing follow-on patents, a process dubbed “evergreening.” Bloomberg’s proposal would take a buzzsaw to that process.

Pharmaceutical companies regularly use patents—including “patent thickets”—to protect their cash cows. For instance, companies commonly seek new patents to iron out wrinkles in a manufacturing procedure for a drug, or tweaks to dosages and delivery mechanisms for a treatment. Along the way? The evergreening thwarts competition from cheaper generic rivals .

There could, however, be other ways to achieve the same goal. For instance, a drug’s initial patent might dictate when generic competitors are allowed on the market (without discounting follow-on patents for ensuing innovations).

And Bloomberg isn’t the only Democratic candidate challenging the drug industry. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as other presidential hopefuls, have endorsed a range of drug pricing reforms spanning the gamut from direct Medicare price negotiations to upending the current biopharma IP system.

A recent Morning Consult poll has Bloomberg surging to 12% support nationally. He’s still a long-shot for the Democratic nomination—but proposals like this from a billionaire could shape the conversation udring the primary stretch.

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