After hearing from a company whose CEO was a campaign contributor, a congressional aide to Donald Trump’s HHS nominee repeatedly pushed a federal health agency to remove a critical drug study from its website.
The $3 pill known as BiDil was already a difficult sell when a Georgia-based pharmaceutical company bought the marketing rights a few years ago. A treatment for African Americans suffering from heart failure, BiDil had never really caught on, forcing the drug company that developed it to take a buyout offer. One strike against the drug was a 2009 study that raised questions about its safety and effectiveness.
So last summer, the new owner of the drug, Arbor Pharmaceuticals LLC of Atlanta, sought to get the study taken down from a government website. For help, the company turned to the office of a congressman to whom the CEO had given the maximum $2,700 campaign donation — Rep. Tom Price, the Georgia Republican nominated by Donald Trump to become head of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Over the next few months, one of Price’s aides emailed the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality at least half a dozen times, asking at one point “what seems to be the hold up” in getting the study removed from the website, which aims to help patients, health care providers and policy makers make “better treatment choices.” In the end, the agency, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, kept the study online but added a note: “This report is greater than 5 years old. Findings may be used for research purposes but should not be considered current.”
The exchange over the BiDil study, obtained through public records requests and not previously reported, is the latest example of how public policy and industry matters converged in the congressional career of Price, who is a physician. Price was questioned extensively yesterday during his confirmation hearings about reports that he took legislative action affecting companies that donated to him or in which he held shares.
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