Lobbyists who want Congress to approve a swift pathway to generic versions of biotech drugs say the Federal Trade Commission last week handed their side a boost just as Congress wades into the health care reform debate.
But biotech brand companies, which have billions of dollars at stake, stepped up their own lobbying efforts, calling the FTC report flawed and working to give their side momentum on Capitol Hill.
This study is an enormous game-changer, said Mark Merritt, president of the Pharmacy Care Management Association, which supports a bill by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that would give brand-name companies five years of market exclusivity for their biotech drugs before generics enterprises could market their versions.
Brand-name companies argue they need at least a dozen years of market exclusivity in order to make it worth their bottom lines to keep producing the products.
The FTC report stated that such a lengthy period of exclusivity was unnecessary.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which last week unveiled its health care reform bill, left out the details when it comes to biologics. Lobbyists for both sides say this week, when the committee is expected to mark up its bill, Senators will determine the length of exclusivity.
But on the House side, a competing bill to Waxmans one sponsored by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) and generally supported by the brand industry is adding co-sponsors.
It blows apart this mythology that you need all these extra years of exclusivity to protect innovation, added Merritt, whose group is part of the Coalition for a Competitive Pharmaceutical Marketplace. This gives hope that there can be real biologics legislation that can provide real savings that can finance broader health reform.
Biotech drugs, or biologics, are some of the costliest therapies on the market. They include such products as Genentechs Herceptin, a cancer treatment, and Amgens Enbrel, which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Biologics are almost never taken in pill form but are injected. And brand makers say they cannot be replicated exactly.
The debate is so contentious that even the terms are politically loaded. Brand makers use the terms biosimilars or follow-on biologics; Merritts side calls them biogenerics.
Tom DiLenge, general counsel for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, says his group is in favor of creating a pathway but needs a 12-year exclusivity. Otherwise, he said, there would be much less incentive to engage in all of that work, if a competitor can free-ride on your work immediately.
The brand-name side also says that the amount of money a quicker path to generics could save is not nearly as much as Merritt and his allies claim. David Beier, senior vice president of global government and corporate affairs for Enbrels maker Amgen, said that the most recent Office of Management and Budget report says the savings to the federal government would be about $6 billion over 10 years.
People who claim that somehow theres going to be a massive amount of savings, that just doesnt work as a matter of mathematics, Beier said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.