As the public outcry mounts over drug companies charging astounding prices for their latest miracle medicines, Governor Charlie Baker — fresh off a fund-raising splurge from Vertex Pharmaceuticals officials — is going the other way.
Baker appeared at a forum this week and gave a full-throated defense of the Boston-based firm for charging up to $300,000 annually per patient for its newly developed drugs to fight cystic fibrosis.
At the event, Baker made the drug company’s case that it had invested billions of dollars “over a decade” to come up with its cystic fibrosis drugs and had a right to recoup its investments. And it is well worth it for those who have the disease, he said.
“For anyone who has a family member who is dealing with that, it’s a . . . miracle,’’ Baker said at the event sponsored by STAT and The Atlantic.
Rewind to the last days of March, when a series of campaign donations from top Vertex officials totaling $7,500 showed up on the books of the campaign committees of Baker and his running mate, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito.
Baker’s aides were quick to push back at any notion there was a line between the donations and his justifying the cost of Vertex’s drugs.
“Governor Baker is committed to reforms that will help control the cost of prescription drugs while still providing access to medically necessary treatments, including an innovative proposal opposed by the pharmaceutical industry that would allow Massachusetts to negotiate lower prices in the MassHealth program like private providers do, and urging the federal government to expedite the approval of less expensive generics in the market,’’ said Billy Pitman, his campaign spokesman.
“At the same time, he is proud that Massachusetts is home to some of the most innovative healthcare companies in the world and supports a balanced system where these companies can continue to responsibly finance the development of lifesaving therapies,” Pitman said.
Vertex has come under heavy fire for its pricing, including from 29 physicians and scientists working on cystic fibrosis issues who said its charges for the drugs are “unseemly,’’ unfair to patients, and come at a time when its executives are making millions of dollars off its investments.
Still, Vertex, as it fends off the attacks, is making sure it’s getting its voice heard in political circles. Up until Baker’s election, the firm’s top executives have been relatively low key about its contributions in Massachusetts in recent years.
In fact, the recent contributions to Baker mark Vertex officials’ greatest involvement so far in the governor’s rapacious fund-raising efforts. However, in 2016 and 2017, they gave nearly $260,000 to the Baker-allied Republican Governors Association (which, in 2014, funneled over $11 million into the Massachusetts race to boost Baker’s campaign and is expected to be a major player again in his reelection race this year).
The firm, which did not return a request for comment, did not donate to Baker when he was running for the office in 2013 and 2014, according to online records.
The Vertex donations showed up in the last reporting period of March — two weeks during which Baker once again proved his huge cash advantage over his potential opponents. He raised $339,836, while Polito raised another $200,891 — giving them $11.2 million in their accounts.
The three Democratic candidates combined raised $63,174 and, again combined, have $260,149 in their accounts.Frank Phillips can be reached at email@example.com.