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Why Big Pharma should be afraid. Very afraid

Bernie Sanders is upset. But after a fascinating vote in the U.S. Senate Wednesday night, it's Big Pharma that should be upset. In fact Big Pharma should be afraid. Because for the second time this week it's becoming obvious its iron wall of protection in Washington is starting to crumble.

On the surface, the drug companies won a battle against Senator Bernie Sanders as his bill to allow pharmaceutical distributors and pharmacists to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and other countries lost by a narrow 52-46 vote. And Sanders is fuming at the 13 Democratic Senators who essentially killed the bill by voting against it.

But first impressions can be deceiving. The bigger news is that 12 Republicans joined the Sanders forces and voted in favor of his bill. Suddenly, the battle lines in the pharma wars are shifting. They didn't shift in time to get this cheaper drug importation bill passed, but that measure was small potatoes anyway. The stakes will be much higher in the coming months, and the anti-pharma armies are getting stronger.

Just look at some of the names of the key GOP Senators with seniority or national renown as conservatives who voted in favor: Ted Cruz, (yes THAT Ted Cruz), Charles Grassley, John Thune, John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Mike Lee. And note well that the newest Republican Senator, John Kennedy from Louisiana, also joined in favor. More on Kennedy, and why his vote was especially telling in a moment.

But first, it's hard to discount the importance of seeing Senators like Cruz and Thune join in on a bill clearly meant to send a message to the drug industry. This is very much the result of more and more bi-partisan opposition to exploding prescription drug prices in individual cases like Mylan's EpiPen last year and the Martin Shkreli-induced 50-fold increase for a life-saving drug called Daraprim in 2015. And while Democrats and Republicans joined in the drug company-bashing and drug company CEO-bashing in response to those incidents during Senate hearings, actually standing up and being counted in a vote meant to warn the entire drug industry is more significant.

Of course, this is not just a result of the EpiPen costs and Martin Shkreli. This...