A billionaire couple is pumping money into the drug pricing debate. Can they loosen pharma’s grip?

He was a whiz kid trader at Enron before its fall. He then ran his own hedge fund. Now, he and his wife are taking on drug prices.

John Arnold is legendary for turning contrarian bets into heaps of money. The soft-spoken Texan was a whiz kid trader at Enron before its fall. He then ran his own hedge fund, specializing in energy trading. Before he turned 34, he was a billionaire.

He can afford his prescription drugs.

But Arnold, now a philanthropist with a technocratic bent, has been investing considerable money lately into projects aimed at lowering or rethinking drug prices — a populist cause more often associated with activists and patients than a rich guy who made his name in finance.

Along with his wife, Laura, Arnold has been showering money on an expert class of wonkish academics, advocacy groups, and journalists interested in drug pricing issues. More recently, the couple agreed to pour what’s expected to be a seven-figure sum into a group seeking to sway November’s midterm elections by supporting candidates who promise to address drug prices — and opposing those seemingly committed to keeping drug prices the way they are.

When it comes to philanthropy, the Arnolds are the only major game in town on drug pricing at a time when other billionaires are flocking to fund politically charged work on hot-button issues like climate change and gun control.

But no one really seems to have a good idea of what exactly has motivated the Arnolds to take on drug pricing — or specifically what their endgame is to go about addressing it.

“What they’re trying to do is create a strong dialogue about what is going on — and if the status quo is not producing an affordable outcome, ask the question of how to change that status quo,” said Mark Miller, a health care expert by the Arnolds to help them expand their grant-making on drug pricing and other issues in health care.

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