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As scientists race to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, Democrats in Congress have renewed their push for price controls on drugs designed to protect us from the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, along with other illnesses.

The Democrats claim many Americans will only be able to afford the therapies that emerge if the government caps their prices.

But price controls are a counterproductive way to bring down the cost of vaccines and drugs to treat diseases. They’d not only result in shortages but also make it harder for researchers to develop lifesaving drugs.

By contrast, injecting transparency into the pharmaceutical market at home and negotiating better trade deals abroad would yield lower drug prices without jeopardizing medical progress.

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Congressional Democrats have been doing their best not to let this crisis go to waste. Initial drafts of the first coronavirus stimulus package – an $8.3 billion spending bill Congress passed March 4 – included a provision that would have allowed the government to dictate the price of any COVID-19 vaccine developed using federal funds.

The price controls didn’t end up in the final version of the bill. But there is plenty of price control legislation lingering on Capitol Hill.

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For example, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s bill – called the Lower Drug Costs Now Act – would allow the federal government to effectively set the price of up to 250 brand-name drugs each year. It would also cap prices for these drugs at the average price in six other developed nations.

That would kneecap drug research. On average, it takes $2.6 billion and up to 15 years to bring a drug from the lab to pharmacy shelves. Just over 10 percent of drugs that begin clinical trials ever receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

In other words, about nine in 10 compounds that make it to testing in humans fail. All the years and money spent developing them are essentially for naught.

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