All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for October 2002

Prescription drug war

Large brand-name pharmaceutical companies are waging what appears to be a success

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October 10th, 2002
WASHINGTON
By Janelle Carter
Associated Press Writer

Large brand-name pharmaceutical companies are waging what appears to be a successful lobbying and public relations battle to prevent the House from taking up a bill that would make it easier for generic drugs to enter the marketplace.

The Senate already passed the legislation, but none of the Republican sponsors of a House companion measure have signed on to a Democratic-led effort to force a vote. At least one Democrat, Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, has asked that his name be removed from the petition drive.

As of Tuesday, Democrats had 141 signatures on a petition to force a vote this year, but 218 are needed.

“We definitely had expected to see a little more momentum,” said Janell Mayo Duncan, legislative counsel for Consumers Union. “We’re kind of perplexed.”

The fight is over a bill that would limit brand-name pharmaceutical companies’ usage of patent laws to thwart generic competition. The Senate passed the legislation in July, with sponsors saying it was to help Americans cope with rising prescription drug costs.

The trade group representing brand-name companies, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, has had under way for several weeks a massive advertising campaign opposing the bill.

Tuesday, the group, known as Phrma, raised the ante by pulling out celebrity advocates to urge lawmakers to reject the bill. Among those visiting lawmakers’ offices were talk show hosts Montel Williams and Leeza Gibbons.

“If today we stop the ability to do this, there will be no hope for a cure for me,” said Williams, who has multiple sclerosis.

Gibbons, whose mother has Alzheimer’s disease, said, “The current system that’s in place is working. New drugs, innovative therapies are happening. We want to encourage lawmakers to just pause for a moment.”

Both said they were visiting Congress at their own expense.

“It is time for the Bush administration and House Republicans to start paying more attention to the medical needs of senior citizens and less to the profit margins of big drug companies that are abusing the system,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) the measure’s Senate sponsor, said, “Obviously, if there were no Phrma, this bill would be law by now. Phrma pulls out all the stops.”

House Republican sponsors of the measure said they oppose the Democratic effort to bring the bill to the floor immediately because House committees have not worked on it.

“Let’s not play election year politics with such an important piece of legislation,” Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Phrma’s ads opposing the bill have drawn the ire of the generic drug industry.

One of those ads shows a sick child with the headline, “Pray for a Miracle, Because Generic Drugs Will Never Cure Him.” The ad charges that the bill, if passed, will stifle pharmaceutical innovation.

Kathleen Jaeger, president of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, demanded that Phrma pull the ad. “The juxtaposition of a critically ill child with America’s penchant for innovative cures is indeed nothing more than a shameless public relations tactic designed to obfuscate the real issues and ignore other realities,” Jaeger wrote in a letter to Phrma president Alan Holmer.

For his part, Holmer replied in a letter that the ad highlights an important issue for Congress to consider: “The fact that brand-name pharmaceutical companies discover new medicines that offer patients hope of better medical care and better lives, while generic copies never represent even the smallest of improvements in medical care.”
 

© 2002, Associated Press