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Pharma Executive Confronted Over Drug Price Hikes: How Do You Live With Yourself?

A Gilead executive was questioned by protesters at a health care conference in San Francisco.

[Photo: Flickr user Chris Potter/www.stockmonkeys.com]

Pharmaceutical company executives were grilled by protesters at an industry conference in San Francisco this week for hiking the prices of life-saving drugs.

One of their targets was Gilead Pharmaceutics, which recently increased the price of its breakthrough hepatitis C drug to $84,000 per treatment. Protesters held signs imploring the company to "treat the needy, don't be greedy." During a panel discussion, Stat News reported that Gilead executive Gregg Alton was asked how he lives with himself. "I sleep quite well," he retorted.

Price-hiking was a major theme of this year's JP Morgan Healthcare conference. Some drug makers took the opportunity to dismiss the public outcry as a misunderstanding of the fundamentals of the pharmaceutical business. Ron Cohen, chairman of the big industry group BIO, even called it an "abomination."

Pharma companies argue that it costs more than $1 billion to bring a new drug to market. Developing a new drug is a highly risky process, and therefore they justify hiking up the price of their most successful drugs to fund future research and development. Oftentimes, firms will increase the price of drugs to make as much money as possible before patents expire.

But critics say that some pharma executives are lining their own pockets by hiking up live-saving drugs. One notable example is Martin Shkreli, the "bad boy or pharma," who increased the price of an AIDS drug from $13.50 to $750 virtually overnight. Price hikes are expected to continue throughout 2016, if previous trends continue.

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