November 4, 2015 / 2:31 PM / 3 years ago

US House oversight panel Democrats urge vote to subpoena Valeant, Turing

WASHINGTON, Nov 4 (Reuters) - The Democratic members of a U.S. House of Representatives investigative committee asked Republicans on Wednesday to call a vote to subpoena Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Turing Pharmaceuticals, amid accusations the companies wrongfully hiked the prices of lifesaving drugs.

In a letter, the panel’s leading Democrat, Elijah Cummings, and its 17 other Democratic members asked Republican committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz to stop blocking their efforts to investigate possible abuses by the companies.

They also accused Valeant Chief Executive Officer J. Michael Pearson and Turing CEO Martin Shkreli of stonewalling their demands for documents. They requested a Nov. 17 meeting for a vote on whether to subpoena the two executives to compel them to produce records, and also called for the chairman to hold a hearing so that Pearson and Shkreli can testify.

“When corporate executives like Mr. Pearson and Mr. Shkreli engage in abusive business practices to enrich themselves and their shareholders at the expense of patients, hospitals and other healthcare providers, they should be held accountable for their actions,” the letter said.

The letter was released in conjunction with a news conference on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, in which Cummings and several other Democratic lawmakers planned to announce they were forming a new drug pricing task force designed to “combat the skyrocketing costs of pharmaceuticals.”

The pressure from Democrats marked the latest challenge for Canada-based Valeant and Turing, which are under investigation in connection with drug pricing, among other things.

Last month, Valeant disclosed that it had received subpoenas from federal prosecutors in New York and Massachusetts in connection with a probe into their patient assistance programs, drug pricing and distribution practices.

In addition, its share price took a hit later that month after an influential short-seller accused the company of using specialty pharmacies to pad its revenue, a charge Valeant has vehemently denied.

The company has since cut ties with Philidor, the main specialty pharmacy whose business dealings with Valeant are under scrutiny. Valeant is investigating whether Philidor may have broken any laws.

The company has also faced congressional scrutiny over its decision to drastically raise the prices for heart drugs Nitropress and Isuprel after it acquired the rights to sell them.

Turing, meanwhile, is facing an investigation by the New York state attorney general’s office into whether it violated antitrust rules in connection with price increases of Daraprim, an anti-parasitic drug used to treat patients with weak immune systems. The company is based, in Zug, Switzerland, with offices in New York.

It was not the first time Democrats on the panel have asked committee Chairman Chaffetz to allow them to investigate drug companies and the price of prescription medications. A similar request was made in September.

The Democrats on Wednesday accused Chaffetz of failing to give them “the courtesy of a reply” to their initial request. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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