GOP lawmaker says panel to investigate drug company gaming of patent system

GOP lawmaker says panel to investigate drug company gaming of patent system
© Greg Nash

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday New legislation required to secure US semiconductor leadership MORE (R-Texas) said Tuesday that the Senate Judiciary Committee will be investigating how drug companies game the patent system to delay competition from cheaper generic drugs.

Cornyn said that he spoke with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse | Trump administration awards tech group contract to build 'virtual' wall | Advocacy groups urge Congress to ban facial recognition technologies Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse The Hill's Campaign Report: The political heavyweights in Tuesday's primary fights MORE (R-S.C.), the chairman of that committee, following concerns that Cornyn raised in a drug pricing hearing on Tuesday.

“He said he would work with me in the Judiciary Committee, which would have jurisdiction over that, to both investigate it and come up with any curative legislation if warranted,” Cornyn told reporters.   

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The new inquiry from the Judiciary Committee comes after Cornyn grilled Abbvie CEO Richard Gonzalez in a Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday morning over the company’s practices in fending off competition for its blockbuster drug Humira.

Abbvie has over 100 patents for the drug.

“I support the patent system but I don't support gaming it, and that sounded curiously like gaming it,” Cornyn said after the hearing.

Asked if the Judiciary Committee would have a hearing, Cornyn said of Graham, “that's what he told me he would do, yeah.”

A spokesman for Graham did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cornyn’s comments and the new potential Judiciary Committee activity indicate that action on drug prices is gaining some momentum among Senate Republicans.

Cornyn was the No. 2 Senate Republican until his term expired this year.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyCongress gears up for battle over expiring unemployment benefits US, Mexico set for new post-NAFTA trade era Senators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Finance Committee, has already proposed two bills aimed at cracking down on similar gaming that prevents cheaper generic drugs from getting on the market. Grassley said Tuesday he supports having the Judiciary Committee look into the issue further.

Asked if he was satisfied with Gonzalez’s response to his questions in the Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday, Cornyn said “not really.”

Gonzalez argued that the company has now given licenses for competition to begin for Humira.

“We've tried to strike what we think is a reasonable balance,” he said. “I realize it may not be popular, but I think it is a reasonable balance.”

Cornyn noted that Abbvie sued a competitor, Amgen, in 2016 to block competition for Humira.

“We're going to get to the bottom of it, but it strikes me as excessive when one company has more than 100 patents on the same molecule,” Cornyn told reporters.