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The drug industry is in denial about the seriousness of its pricing problem.

Throughout this autumn, as the issue of drug pricing erupted from a long-simmering controversy into a full-blown headache, pretty much every CEO of note in biotech and pharma had to address the subject, and their tone was largely defensive and dismissive. There were vague promises of moderation, and readings from whatever aged grimoire (or trade group slide deck) pharma execs find their near-identical pricing arguments. But there was precious little acknowledgement that the industry might actually need to change.

It probably helps their sense of disconnection that the pricing blow-up was triggered by two fairly extreme catalysts: the comically villainous Martin Shkreli -- infamous for marking up toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim by 5,000 percent -- and the Valeant fiasco, in which the specialty pharmaceutical is accused of using a specialty pharmacy to help inflate drug prices. The media circus around these stories makes it easier to dismiss them as "noise," as CEOs John Lechleiter of Eli Lilly and Kenneth Frazier of Merck recently described them on earnings calls.

But that noise has been a drag on stock prices, putting the kibosh on a boom that had taken the Nasdaq Biotech Index up 480 percent between 2009 and its July peak. The NYSE Arca Pharmaceutical Index had risen 190 percent over the same period. Since September 21 -- when

, in response to Shkreli, that something must be done about drug pricing -- there's been some recovery, but the Nasdaq Biotech Index is down by more than 9 percent, and the NYSE pharma index is down 6 percent.

That's pretty noisy, but it could yet get worse. The industry still faces a long campaign season as a convenient object of scorn, along with the risk of real legislation. Instead of really...


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