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Generics Seek New Prescription for Influence

The generic drug industry, outmanned and outspent on the lobbying front compared to its name-brand counterparts, has been struggling to be heard on Capitol Hill throughout the health care debate.

Now, with the completion of Senate Finance Committee work Tuesday, generic companies and their allies are trying to raise their voices as Democratic House and Senate leaders begin the next phase in moving massive health care legislation through Congress.

Health care interests, both large and small, will focus on an array of provisions tucked into the bills that must now be melded by the leaders before the legislation is brought to the floor for a vote. The generic industry will be zeroing in on provisions adapted by key committees in both chambers that would shut it out of the biologic drug market for at least 12 years.

Brand-name manufacturers say they need that time to develop the innovative products, which are often made from living cells, and to recover their investments. But officials with generic companies say they should be allowed to enter the market within five to seven years, the same time frame that now applies to traditional chemical-based drugs.

They argue that if one of the goals of health care reform is to reduce medical costs, then lawmakers should allow lower-priced generics, or follow-on biologics, on the market as soon as possible.

“The current bill is not going to provide needed access to affordable life saving medicines,” said Kathleen Jaeger, president of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, which represents 50 companies.

The generic drug companies, however, face an uphill fight.

Led by their powerful and well-connected industry association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the brand-name drug companies have dispatched legions of lobbyists to Capitol Hill.

Early on, PhRMA also racked up bonus points with the White House and some key lawmakers by striking a deal in which the industry offered up concessions worth $80 billion over 10 years to help defray drug costs for seniors.

The generic drug industry did not participate in those negotiations, and the sector’s executives acknowledge they are at a disadvantage when it comes to lobbying Congress.

“This is the David vs. Goliath in terms of the pharmaceutical industry,” said Debra Barrett, senior vice president of government affairs for Teva Pharmaceuticals, the largest manufacturer of generic drugs.

“In the world of lobbying, it is breaking through the noise,” Barrett said. “When you have 100 lobbyists, you have a lot of noise.”

Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University, said the generic industry has increased its footprint in Washington in recent years. But he said the sector’s problem in the current health care debate is that much of the public has not been following or does not understand the biologic drugs issue. That gives more of an advantage to the brand-name drug industry with its formidable lobbying presence.

“When you don’t have easy public understanding,” Blendon said, “lobbying power really counts.”

A PhRMA spokeswoman said the company would not comment on its lobbying efforts against the generic companies. But the industry group cited a Duke University study that concluded that it will take 13 to 16 years for publicly traded companies developing these new drugs to break even.

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