Some of the world's biggest pharmaceutical firms are the latest in line to feel the heat from US President Donald Trump, who called on their bosses to "cut astronomical drug prices" and "move back to the US."
Over a White House meeting late on Tuesday (31 January) with senior executives from the sector, including the bosses of Eli Lilly, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis and Amgen, Trump said: "US drug companies have produced extraordinary results for our country but the pricing has been astronomical; we have to do better.
"We have to get even better innovation, and I want you [industry chiefs] to move your companies back to the US."
In order to facilitate this, Trump vowed to introduce tax cuts, speed up the approval process of new medicines by the country's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and cut red tape. "We will be lowering taxes big league. We're going to be getting rid of regulations that are unnecessary – big league," the president said.
Industry lobby group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which also sent representative to the talks, described the dialogue as "constructive" and "encouraging".
"We believe if these policies are enacted, it will translate to up to 350,000 new jobs over the next 10 years as a result of growth in the biopharmaceutical industry," added Stephen Ubl, chief executive of PhRMA.
Trump's comments sparked a rally in pharmaceutical and biotechnology stocks on Wall Street.
Shares in Eli Lilly (+3.12%), Merck (+0.91%), Amgen (+1.46%), Novartis (+2.24%) and Johnson & Johnson (+0.11%) headed higher on Wall Street, after details of the meeting emerged. Nasdaq Biotech Index rose 3% while the S&P 500 healthcare index rose 1.4%.
After the meeting, John Lechleiter, chief executive officer of Eli Lilly, which is headquartered in Vice-President Mike Pence's home state of Indiana, said: "Some the policies the president came out and suggested could help us do more, and tax deregulation is a thing that could really help us expand."
Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier said: "The president is very much focused on how we can actually do better for patients, giving them more choice, helping them to deal with the medical bills that they have in a way that also stimulates innovation."