Under the Dome

Hillary Clinton starts ads on race, pharmaceuticals as she visits NC

Along with her first public visit to North Carolina during the 2016 presidential primaries, Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination has started airing four ads in the state.

Two are running on television and two on radio. They started airing Wednesday, six days before the state’s primary.

The radio ads and one of the TV ads deal with race. The other TV ad attacks Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a company with numerous ties to the Triangle.

One TV ad features clips of Clinton talking about some of the people whose deaths inspired the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Raleigh avoided headlines tied to the movement until last week, when the killing of a black man by a white police officer spurred marches and speeches. Police later said the victim, Akiel Denkins, was armed and struggled with the officer before being shot.

In her other TV ad, Clinton attacks Valeant, a Canadian drug maker. The company, which The New York Times reported is facing two federal subpoenas “related to its pricing, distribution and patient support practices,” has many local connections.

The day the ad started airing here, Valeant announced that former UNC System President Tom Ross would join its board of directors along with Fred Eshelman, an entrepreneur for whom the UNC-Chapel Hill Eshelman School of Pharmacy is named. The chairman of the board, Robert Ingram, is a partner at a Durham venture capital firm.

Valeant CEO J. Michael Pearson and his wife, Christine, are Duke University grads and have given more than $50 million to the school.

Last year, Valeant bought Raleigh-based Salix Pharmaceuticals and announced it would lay off almost all of its employees. Valeant also owns Raleigh-based Sprout Pharmaceuticals.

In her ad, Clinton highlights the rising cost of Valeant’s anti-migraine drug D.H.E. 45.

“I’m going after them,” Clinton says in the ad. “This is predatory pricing, and we’re going to make sure it is stopped.”

The Federal Trade Commission defines “predatory pricing” as the use of ultra-low prices to squeeze competition, not high prices. Regardless, local business law professors Kevin Lee of Campbell University and Richard Saver of UNC-Chapel Hill said there are ways a president can get pharmaceutical companies to lower prices.

“There are a variety of measures, from using the force of the bully pulpit to encouraging the Medicare and Medicaid program to innovate the way they pay for drugs, that could partially address the issue of rising drug costs,” Saver said.

Lee said a president could also increase federal funding to cut the backlog of generic drugs awaiting government approval, which would increase competition in the market.

Clinton’s ad comes as many voters in both parties are gravitating toward candidates – specifically, her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump – who say they won’t be beholden to corporate interests. Clinton has raised the most money of any presidential candidate from pharmaceutical companies, and by a large margin.

Sanders will hold a rally at midday today at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium.

Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran

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