Senator questions drug company's payment to Trump attorney

Senator questions drug company's payment to Trump attorney
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee says he is opening an investigation into Michael Cohen, President TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis MORE’s personal attorney, and his relationship with the pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

Novartis this week acknowledged that it signed a $1.2 million contract with Cohen in 2017. The company said it hired Cohen to advise them on health policy matters.

Novartis said it only met with Cohen once, and when the copmany realized he couldn’t deliver what they expected, they let the contract lapse. 

But in a letter sent to Novartis on Friday, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid Top Democrat demands answers on election equipment vulnerabilities Advocates frustrated over pace of drug price reform MORE (D-Ore.) suggested the payments to Novartis may be linked to Kymriah, the company's breakthrough cancer drug that was being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.

Wyden noted the company at the time was also negotiating with Medicare on how federal health programs would pay for the drug, which costs nearly half a million dollars.

“The Senate Finance Committee has a duty to ensure that pharmaceutical companies providing services to federal health plans are conducting business in a legal and transparent manner,” Wyden wrote to Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan.

A spokesman for Novartis told The Hill “we anticipated this letter which we received and plan to fully cooperate.”

When Kymriah was approved in August 2017, the FDA hailed it as a “historic action.” The company faced backlash over the $475,000 price tag, but it essentially came with a money-back guarantee for the federal government — Novartis would only be reimbursed by Medicare if patients responded to it after the first month of treatment.

Wyden asked Novartis for copies of all communication between the company and Cohen’s firm, as well as details about the payments and contract. He also asked for all internal communications about Cohen, as well external communications between lobbyists, the White House and other government agencies related to Cohen.

Wyden sent a similar letter to Cohen, and also asked the Treasury Department for financial information related to suspicious activity reports on Cohen, his firm Essential Consultants LLC and Novartis.

“Novartis paid Mr. Cohen hundreds of thousands dollars more than it paid its big-shot lobbyists in Washington,” Wyden said in a statement. “The American public needs to know who at the company signed off on this scheme and what were they expecting in return.

"Drug prices are already out of reach for too many American families, and drug companies need to be held accountable if they are breaking the law.”