Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd's research chief said on Tuesday the drug industry must act responsibly when it comes to pricing medications, given the mounting anger over the high cost of therapies in the United States.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton brought new attention to the issue last week, proposing to cap patients' treatment costs, just one of several ways she would prevent "profiteering" by drugmakers if elected.
"The receptivity of the American public to this indicates that this is an issue, and Teva has to pay attention to it just like other pharma," said Michael Hayden, global head of research and development at Teva, the world's largest generic drugmaker.
"Politically, I can't see this becoming a reality. But the message is more important than the reality, and the message is that we have to be mindful of what the healthcare system can tolerate," Hayden said in an interview at the PSA Pharmaceutical Strategy Conference in New York.
True innovation needs to be rewarded, he said, citing strides against HIV, recent cures for hepatitis C, and those working to develop effective treatments for Alzheimer's disease.
"But we need to be responsible too. Our goal is not to make money and disrupt the whole healthcare system," Hayden said.
Clinton's proposals include allowing the government's Medicare plan for the elderly to negotiate drug pricing. She suggested that large drugmakers should be made to help increase competition of generic drugs by investing in their production when there is only one manufacturer.
Tiny Turing Pharmaceuticals became the latest company to face public ire last week for raising the price of a decades-old treatment for a dangerous parasitic infection to $750 a pill from $13.50 after acquiring it as the sole manufacturer. The company has since said it would roll back the price, but did not specify by how much.
Hayden called the Turing example "inappropriate and shocking behavior that undermines what we're trying to do in the industry."
Teva has faced criticism for raising the price of its own branded multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone in recent years, a common practice among larger pharmaceutical companies. Hayden countered that Teva's generic medications have saved the U.S. healthcare system $162 billion over 10 years.
"We need to change the way we're viewed by the public. We're doing good. We're really indispensable to the healthcare system," Hayden said. "Turing and others don't really help that perspective ... We have an image problem."
(Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Bernard Orr)