Dr. Hahn: “We're all very fortunate that your passion is behind this because it's a significant problem across the country… I pledge to work with you, Senator, and the Congress on those particular issues.”
Washington, D.C.—At today’s confirmation hearing for Dr. Stephen Hahn to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Health Committee, requested and received Dr. Hahn’s commitment to help prevent the scarcity of certain vital drugs. Dr. Hahn also pledged to Senator Collins that he would work with her to lower the cost of medications.
Senator Collins shared with Dr. Hahn the repercussions of drug shortages for patients, which include being forced to transfer out of rural hospitals due to a lack of injectable morphine and being denied additional immunotherapy treatments that can prevent a recurrence of cancer. Most recently, a shortage of vincristine, which treats many childhood cancers, is causing anxiety for families and their providers. MaineHealth, Maine’s largest health care organization, is currently managing 40 shortages, and Northern Light Health in Bangor has hired four additional staff to focus on this issue full time.
“Patients, pharmacists, physicians, and hospitals in my state are struggling with shortages of vital drugs,” said Senator Collins. “Senator Tina Smith and I have introduced a bill to help lessen these drug shortages. And that bill has the support of more than 50 health care organizations showing how widespread this problem is…Today, will you commit publicly to all those patients who are affected by drug shortages and to this committee that you will work with us on legislation and explore other ways to mitigate this very serious problem?
“Yes, I commit certainly to working with Congress on this issue,” Dr. Hahn replied. “As I mentioned to you, this is something that is very significant, telling parents and a child that you don't have vincristine to treat their cancer…no physician, wants to be in that position.
Senator Collins also emphasized the urgent need to reduce the skyrocketing cost of prescriptions, an issue she has championed in Congress. She cited an estimate by former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb that Americans would have saved $4.5 billion in 2017 alone if all the biosimilars that have been approved by the FDA were successfully marketed in this country in a timely fashion. Senator Collins also described the Biologic Patent Transparency Act she introduced with Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) that would help block the harmful patent strategies that prevent lower-cost generics from coming to market.
Senator Collins asked Dr. Hahn, “What role do you see the FDA playing in coordination with the FTC and the patent office to prevent the gaming of the patent system when we're dealing with biosimilars? And are you willing to have FDA play an aggressive role in using the Purple Book to publicize patents?”
Dr. Hahn responded affirmatively, “I’m very much in favor of transparency, and anti-competitive practices should be eliminated. So I pledge to work with you, Senator, and the Congress on those particular issues.”
Dr. Hahn currently serves as the chief medical executive at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He is board certified in both medical oncology and radiation oncology, specializing over the course of his career on prostate, bladder, kidney, testicular, and lung cancers and sarcoma.