By Ginger Gibson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called on pharmaceutical company Mylan NV to voluntarily drop the price of its severe allergy treatment drug EpiPen, which has increased in price by more than 400 percent in the past decade.
"That's outrageous - and it's just the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers," Clinton said in a statement. "It's wrong when drug companies put profits ahead of patients, raising prices without justifying the value behind them."
Clinton frequently said during the primary that she would fight pharmaceutical companies - part of an attempt to counter criticism that she was too closely tied to the insurance industry. She has released a proposal that she says will lower drug costs for consumers.
Mylan spokeswoman Nina Devlin did not respond to inquiries about Clinton's criticism of the company. Mylan acquired the product in 2007, and the price increased from $100 in 2008 to its current cost of $600.
Shares of Mylan closed down more than 5 percent at $43.15 on the Nasdaq.
“The price of EpiPen is outrageous,” said Robert Weissman, president of consumer watchdog group Public Citizen. “Mylan is endangering lives and ripping off the country.”
Weissman said EpiPen's U.S. price should be rolled back sharply, noting the product is available for as little as $112 in Canada. Many other drugmakers also routinely raise prices of their prescription drugs by 10 percent or more each year, and U.S. legislation is needed to prevent such “price spikes,” he added.
The White House took a more cautious tone in criticizing rising drug costs, refusing to comment on the decisions of an individual company.
"I will observe, however, that pharmaceutical companies that often try to portray themselves as the inventors of life-saving medication often do real damage to their reputation by being greedy and jacking up prices in a way that victimizes," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a news briefing.
Clinton joins a bipartisan group of lawmakers who are calling for investigations into the price increase of EpiPens, which are preloaded injections of epinephrine (adrenaline) that people use if they are having a dangerous allergic reaction that untreated could result in death.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote Mylan earlier in the week to ask for an explanation of the price change. Senator Amy Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the committee's antitrust subcommittee, called for an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.
On Wednesday, Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill requested that Mylan provide a briefing for the Senate to explain the price change.
Grassley and Klobuchar, along with Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Richard Blumenthal and Republican Senator Ron Johnson, on Wednesday said they had written to the Food and Drug Administration to ask about its approval process for alternatives to the EpiPen.
"Given the importance of this topic, it is imperative to understand the FDA’s role with respect to EpiPens and its approval of generic equivalents that could help to increase competition and lower prices if introduced,” the senators said in a statement.
“We have reached out to every member of Congress who has sent us a letter, and we look forward to meeting with them and responding to their questions as soon as possible,” Devlin said.
In January, Clinton admonished Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc, which raised the price of a heart drug. In the wake of a Clinton campaign blog post targeting Valeant, the company's stock fell. In March, she released a campaign ad vowing to target the company specifically.
Clinton also criticized Turing Pharmaceuticals in the fall of 2015 when public ire rose after it decided to raise the price of an antiviral medication commonly used by AIDS patients and pregnant women from $13.50 a tablet to $750 each.
After a single post by Clinton on the social media website Twitter critical of Turing, the company's stock price tumbled.
At that time, Clinton released a comprehensive drug price plan that she says would reduce costs. Her proposal includes capping monthly out-of-pocket costs, expanding generic drug access and allowing Americans to buy pharmaceuticals abroad.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said little about lowering drug prices. He has proposed increasing the amount of negotiations permitted by Medicare in order to lower prices for those using the program.
(Additional reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Bernard Orr and Jonathan Oatis)