Big Pharma heads to Capitol Hill Feb. 26: 6 things to know

Seven Big Pharma executives are set to testify before the Senate Finance Committee in a hearing Feb. 26. What you need to know:

1. Who is testifying? The committee asked top leaders from AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer and Sanofi to testify. AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez; AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot; Bristol-Myers CEO Giovanni Caforio; J&J Executive Vice President Jennifer Taubert; Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier; Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla; and Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt are scheduled to represent their companies.

2. Key members of the Senate Finance Committee. The committee is chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who previously held a hearing on drug pricing Jan. 29. During that meeting, Mr. Grassley denounced drug executives' lack of attendance. Since taking on the chairman role in January, Mr. Grassley has vowed to tackle the problem of rising drug costs.

The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, has told colleagues that no topic is off limits during the hearing, according to STAT.

Another member, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., is expected to grill drugmakers for delaying cheaper generic competition by abusing the patent system, according to Politico.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is expected to call out companies for charging more for prescription drugs in America than other countries.

3. How Big Pharma is preparing. In an effort to mitigate any financial consequences, public embarrassment or a blunt hit to their reputations, executives have likely been preparing for the hearing for weeks. Sanofi hired the law firm Arnold & Porter to help prepare its CEO. Another pharmaceutical company used WilmerHale, a law firm seen as an expert in helping executives navigate congressional hearings, according to STAT.  Typically, the law firm begins by profiling each lawmaker involved in the hearing, what issues they stand for and what they will likely ask in the hearing.

Drug companies will also develop "island statements," which are generic, philosophical and often apologetic phrases that corporate executives can use if they feel overwhelmed by the lawmakers' questions.

4. How Big Pharma will likely respond. Big Pharma is likely to deflect the blame onto pharmacy benefit managers or insurers. A drug policy expert told Politico that executives will likely attack the rebate system, arguing that pharmacy benefit managers are to blame. Additionally, executives may argue that drug costs represent just 15 percent of health spending in the U.S. They also may attempt to divert attention to rising healthcare costs in other areas, including surprise medical bills, which recently have been gaining the attention of lawmakers.

5. Sanofi's tactic. Sanofi agreed to speak with Politico about its tactics for surviving the grilling ahead of the Feb. 26 hearing. Mr. Brandicourt said he plans to discuss the opaque rebate system controlled by PBMs and how that system pushes up the price of drugs. He also plans to discuss the coupons Sanofi offers to patients to pay for insulin and other drugs.

6. What this hearing signals. The hearing is reminiscent of previous hearings with Wall Street banks, tobacco companies and the health insurance industries, all of which led to massive reforms. The hearing is seen by many as an ominous signal for the drug industry that major legislative reform is on the horizon.

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