Pfizer CEO says Trump’s executive orders overhauling U.S. drug pricing will upend the industry

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer

Gian Ehrenzeller | Keystone | AP

President Donald Trump’s executive orders aimed at lowering U.S. prescription drug costs will cause “enormous destruction” as the pharmaceutical industry races to develop vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told investors Tuesday.

Trump on Friday signed four executive orders designed to bring U.S. drug prices at least on par with their costs overseas.

“Overall, I’m disappointed with this executive order,” Bourla said during a conference call discussing the company’s second-quarter earnings. “They pose enormous destruction in a time when the industry needs to be completely focused on developing a potential Covid-19 vaccine or treatment.”

Company spokeswoman Amy Rose later emailed CNBC to clarify that Bourla meant to say the orders were an “enormous distraction” for drugmakers working on coronavirus vaccines. A transcript service from data provider FactSet quoted Bourla, who is Greek and speaks with an accent, as saying the new orders would create “enormous disruption” in the industry. 

Trump has made lowering drug costs one of his key health-care issues early in his term. But drug pricing has taken a backseat over the last year as the Trump administration has shifted its focus to other priorities such as the teen vaping epidemic and now the coronavirus. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America called the executive orders a “reckless distraction.”

The comment by Bourla came after the company reported better-than-expected second-quarter earnings and raised its outlook for 2020. The outlook was raised despite a 32% drop in profit. Pfizer said the coronavirus shaved about $500 million, or 4%, off its quarterly revenue as more people worked from home and got fewer new prescriptions and vaccinations. 

Pfizer and German biotech company BioNTech said they began their late-stage human trial for a potential coronavirus vaccine on Monday.

The trial will include up to 30,000 participants ages 18 to 85 across 120 sites globally, including 39 U.S. states, the companies announced. If successful, they expect to submit it for final regulatory review as early as October. They plan to supply up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020 and approximately 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.

Clarification: This story was updated to clarify Bourla’s comments. Pfizer said he intended to say the orders created “enormous distraction” for the industry.

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