An ongoing battle between Gilead Sciences (GILD) and the Malaysian government over hepatitis C treatment intensified in recent weeks as U.S. officials placed pressure on Malaysian officials to back down from a plan to sidestep patents, according to sources familiar with the matter. The fracas stems from a move in 2017 by the Malaysian government to issue a license to generic companies to supply a version of the pricey Sovaldi hepatitis C pill, although only to public facilities, such as hospitals. In doing so, Malaysia became the first country to take such a step amid growing global pushback over the cost of the groundbreaking medicine. (Silverman, 1/2) Stat: SCOTUS To Examine Strategy Drug Makers Use To Sidestep Patient Lawsuits With drugmakers under the microscope, price hikes on branded medicines are off to a slow start in 2019. According to a Goldman Sachs analysis, prices were raised on about 27 percent of the top 500 branded drugs, down from 47 percent last year. The average list price increase was only 4 percent, half what it was in 2018. “The lower magnitude of brand price increases could present modest downside risk to wholesaler earnings,” health-care services analyst Robert Jones wrote in a note to clients. (Flanagan and Griffin, 1/2) Miami Herald: Aurobindo Recalls Valsartan Because NDEA Might Be Cancerous Reuters: Drug Companies Greet 2019 With U.S. Price Hikes Bloomberg: Drugmakers May Be Delaying Price Hikes To Avoid Spotlight Reuters: Trump Says He Expects To See Lower Drug Prices Stat: Gilead Tussles With Malaysia Over Licensing Its Hepatitis C Treatment For the first time since California passed a law designed to provide transparency into prescription drug pricing, the state released a pair of reports showing how much was spent on medicines, the costliest drugs, and the treatments that were most frequently prescribed, among other things. The reports generated little hoopla, but represent the latest tangible results of a drawn-out battle between state lawmakers and the pharmaceutical industry over the rising cost of medicines. With Congress failing to take action on a growing pocketbook issue, California pushed to require drug makers to provide alerts and justification for pending price hikes. (Silverman, 1/3) U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he expects to see a tremendous decrease in drug prices even as drugmakers have taken steps to raise the prices of their medicines starting this month. Trump made the comments during a meeting of his Cabinet at the White House that included U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar. According to documents seen by Reuters, nearly 30 pharmaceutical companies have taken steps to end their self-declared halt to price increases this year. (1/2) Pharma Is Back To Raising Drug Prices, But Increases Aren’t Quite As Eye-Popping As Industry Tries To Avoid Spotlight “Clearly, more caution is in the air and many major multinationals such as Pfizer and Novartis, which found themselves making the headlines several months back, have yet to implement their January increases,” said Raymond James analyst Elliot Wilbur. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he expects drug prices to drop despite pharmaceutical companies lifting their self-imposed hiatus on price increases. The steady stream of Valsartan recalls continued into 2019 when the U.S. division of the India company, Aurobindo Pharma, recalled 80 lots of the blood pressure and heart medication. As with other companies’ recalls of Valsartan, the presence of N-nitrosodiethylamine or NDEA, triggered the recall. (Neal, 1/2) In other pharmaceutical news: a drug pricing transparency law, patient lawsuits, and more — The Supreme Court will next week consider a case that has the potential to upend how drug companies can defend themselves from patient lawsuits. The case, Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Doris Albrecht, began as a collection of lawsuits by more than a thousand patients who used the osteoporosis drug Fosamax. The patients say the drug maker failed to adequately warn them that taking the drug might make them more likely to fracture their femurs. (Swetlitz, 1/3) Stat: California Reports Show Changes In Drug Spending As Makers Sue Over Release Drugmakers kicked off 2019 with price increases in the United States on more than 250 prescription drugs, including the world’s top-selling medicine, Humira, although the pace of price hikes was slower than last year. The industry has been under pressure by the U.S. President Donald Trump to hold their prices level as his administration works on plans aimed at lowering the costs of medications for consumers in the world’s most expensive pharmaceutical market. (1/2) This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.