With the Nov. 6 midterms fast approaching, money is pouring into the closely watched U.S. Senate race in New Jersey between incumbent Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez and Republican challenger Bob Hugin.
One nonprofit organization, Patients for Affordable Drugs (P4AD), formed a super PAC which has spent more than $3 million against Hugin. He previously served as CEO of Celgene Corporation, a biotech company that has been harshly criticized for more than doubling the price of a life-saving cancer drug called Revlimid, successfully blocking its generic equivalents from entering the marketplace, and was reprimanded by the FDA for not warning users about its dangerous side effects.
David Mitchell, president and founder of P4AD, said the purpose of his super PAC is simple: To help elect politicians who will “break the monopoly pricing power of the drug corporations.” Since 2010, Mitchell has been battling an incurable, but treatable blood cancer called multiple myeloma. He said he took one of Celgene’s drugs for five-and-a-half years to treat his disease and watched the price go “up, and up, and up, and ran into other patients struggling to afford it.”
So far, P4ADAction has spent $3.3 million on the New Jersey Senate race, the second most of any super PAC in the race. All of the money has been spent on producing ads attacking Hugin for drastically raising the prices of cancer drugs.
Hugin has refuted the claims in the ads.
“New Jersey voters are a lot smarter than my opponent gives them credit for,” he said in a statement. “They understand that it costs billions of dollars in research and development, and years of hard work by hundreds of researchers and scientists, to develop medicines that successfully treat and cure cancer.”
P4AD has received $3 million from the Action Now Initiative, an organization set up by Laura and John Arnold to “improve the lives of individuals through political advocacy.”
Mitchell isn’t shy about sharing his opinion of Hugin.
“Bob Hugin is the personification of all that is wrong with the drug industry and drug pricing in America,” Mitchell said. “This is a man who doubled the price of a 50-year-old drug, 50 years old! He doubled the price, blocked cheaper generics from coming to market, and earned far more than $100 million, and he did it on the backs of cancer patients.”
Mitchell said Hugin’s actions were a motivating factor in the creation of P4AD, and when Hugin announced he would run for Senate, Mitchell vowed to do everything in his power “to make sure voters in New Jersey knew who [Hugin] was before they voted.”
Hugin’s campaign has questioned P4AD’s legitimacy, criticizing the motives behind David Mitchell’s super-PAC.
Hugin communications director Megan Piwowar called Patients for Affordable Drugs “a partisan front group.”
“David Mitchell and P4AD say they want to ‘defeat politicians who are in the pockets of Big Pharma’ but then turnaround and spend millions to save a corrupt politician like Bob Menendez who has taken nearly $1 million in pharma contributions and voted for higher drug prices time and time again,” Piwowar said.
Menendez’s trial on bribery charges last year ended in a hung jury, and prosecutors decided to drop the case.
A new Monmouth University poll has Menendez leading Hugin 49 percent to 40 percent heading into the midterms.
Note: An earlier version of this article misstated David Mitchell’s characterization of Bob Hugin’s earnings as a pharmaceutical executive.