Trump’s friends in Big Pharma are poised to make a killing off coronavirus

  • 03/26/2020 7:10 pm ET Linda Benesch and Myles Duffy

Flickr/The White House

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A few weeks ago, Matt Colvin of Tennessee was the subject of massive national outrage. Colvin’s crime? Buying up 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer and selling them at a massive markup on Amazon.

Colvin’s actions were worthy of the outrage. But Americans should direct the bulk of anger at Big Pharma corporations and their allies in the White House. These pharma profiteers are preparing to price gauge COVID-19 patients on a massive scale.

Matt Colvin is a minnow next to these five sharks:

5. Johnson & Johnson

Top 5 pharma profiteers taking advantage of COVID-19

Flickr/Open Grid Scheduler

Johnson & Johnson, led by Alex Gorsky, is poised to make a killing on a new COVID drug thanks to lucrative deals to get taxpayer-funded research for free.

Why shouldn’t we trust that J&J will do the right thing once their COVID drug is on the market? Just look at J&J’s record:

J&J is currently price gouging on vital medicines like arthritis drug Remicade and blood thinner Xarelto, on which they hiked the price 87% in 5 years!

J&J was exposed for knowingly selling carcinogenic baby powder with asbestos in it! They knew it caused cancer and marketed it to African Americans anyway.

Now, J&J is working on a coronavirus vaccine. But we can’t afford to give J&J monopoly control to set prices sky high especially since taxpayers already invested $700 million toward a treatment.

4. Gilead Sciences

Top 5 pharma profiteers taking advantage of COVID-19 1

Flickr/Ivan Radic

Gilead Sciences is already infamous, even for Big Pharma, for shameless price gouging.

In 2014, they purchased the hepatitis C drug  Sovaldi and tripled the price to $84,000, putting the medication out of reach of the patients who needed it most. Gilead currently charges nearly $2,000 a month for the HIV prevention drug Truvada even though manufacturing it only costs them $6 per pill.

Given that history, it’s no surprise that Gilead sees the pandemic as yet another chance to rake in profits on the backs of patients. Remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed with public money from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is showing early promise as a COVID-19 treatment.

Gilead has a government-granted monopoly on remdesivir for the next 5 years, but even that wasn’t good enough for them. They applied for “orphan drug” status, which the Trump Administration promptly granted, even though the status is intended for drugs that treat rare diseases — the exact opposite of a pandemic! This gives them an additional 7 years of monopoly over the drug, plus a big tax credit.

Public Citizen, joined by 50 groups including Social Security Works and Lower Drug Prices Now, sent a letter on Wednesday to Gilead’s chief executive, Daniel O’Day, asking him to reverse course on approving the patent. The same day, faced with growing public outrage, Gilead ultimately withdrew its request for the special status. But they are still poised to make a killing off this pandemic.

3. Alex Azar

Top 5 pharma profiteers taking advantage of COVID-19 3


Alex Azar is the man Donald Trump put in charge of regulating big pharma, by appointing him Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Azar’s last job? President of Eli Lilly, a giant drug corporation. Under his leadership, Eli Lilly tripled the price of insulin — a drug that’s been around for almost a century. His price gouging endangered the health and lives of millions of Americans with diabetes struggling to afford insulin.

As a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, Azar won’t stand up to pandemic profiteering. When Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) pushed him to commit that an eventual coronavirus vaccine would be affordable to all Americans, Azar refused. He insisted that “we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest.”

What Azar didn’t mention? Taxpayers, not big pharma, are the ones investing. The NIH has already spent nearly $700 million on researching coronavirus vaccines and treatments.

Azar’s already been through the revolving door between government and big pharma several times in his career. We can expect that when he leaves his current job, there will be a big pharma job with a seven-figure salary waiting to reward him for his “service.”

2. Donald Trump

New recording shows Trump bragging about filling the 'the swamp' for his donors

Flickr/The Epoch Times

Donald Trump loved tough talk on big pharma during the 2016 election. But his actions, both before and during the coronavirus pandemic, tell a very different story.

Candidate Trump said he would ‘negotiate like crazy’ with the big drug corporations. But now he opposes the legislation that recently passed the House of Representatives that would give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices and pass those discounts on to people with private insurance.

Trump also has loaded his administration with 60 advisors with deep ties to the big drug corporations.  Beyond Azar, Trump appointed Joe Grogan, a longtime lobbyist for Gilead, to a senior role as director of the Domestic Policy Council. Grogan and Azar are now both on Trump’s coronavirus task force. Their influence is clear.

Trump is using his daily coronavirus briefing to advertise Big Pharma companies and their potential treatments, much to the consternation of medical experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, who know that these treatments are still unproven and potentially dangerous. In a recent cabinet meeting with 10 top pharma executives, Trump praised the “geniuses” who work for “great companies.”

No doubt Trump is hoping that big pharma will make a massive profit off the pandemic, and give some of it to his reelection campaign.

1. Rising Pharmaceuticals

Top 5 pharma profiteers taking advantage of COVID-19 2

Rising Pharmaceuticals Logo

This New Jersey drug corporation makes chloroquine phosphate, a drug that’s been around since the 1940s to treat malaria but is now being tested for treating COVID.

Rising decided to double the price just as coronavirus was spreading like wildfire across the world. After a major public backlash for profiteering during a global pandemic, Rising shamelessly tried to spin their greed into a PR win by taking credit for lowering their price. But scratch beneath the surface on Rising and you’d see that just a few months ago Rising agreed to pay $3 million for conspiring to fix the price of a blood pressure drug between 2014 and 2015.

Price gouging on a drug that’s been around for 70 years is bad enough without a global pandemic. Throw in their record of cheating and lying to jack up prices on other drugs makes them the #1 pandemic profiteer on our list.

Linda Benesch is the Communications Director at Social Security Works, and Myles Duffy is the Deputy Director of Lower Drug Prices Now.

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