Debra Barrett, who has run the Washington office of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. since 2006, has taken over the drugmaker’s global government affairs portfolio. As part of her new role, the former Senate staffer will oversee a new division tasked with developing public policy for the company.
Although Teva has long been a megaplayer in the generics market, the Israeli company in recent years has stepped up its acquisitions into brand-name products. Barrett says she intends to use this dual identity to give Teva credibility in legislative and policy debates pitting brands against generics — and the ability to offer balanced proposals.
“There’s no other player exactly like us,” Barrett said during an interview in her office near Union Station. “We have an opportunity we can seize on here.”
Teva is not the only company with branded and generic drugs; the Swiss drug giant Novartis International AG, for example, manufacturers both.
Barrett said that Teva will continue to develop and market brand-name drugs and biologics, which are some of the costliest products on the market and include chemotherapy drugs and arthritis remedies that are typically injected. Teva also intends to remain in the generics business, including making look-alike versions of the biologic drugs made from living organisms.
About one in seven of all prescriptions filled in the United States is a Teva product, Barrett said. And her appointment to the top global lobbying position for the company underscores the importance of the American market, according to lobbyists familiar with the company.
Finding a pathway for generic versions of the biotech drugs has been a long- running lobbying battle. Though the 2010 health care overhaul created a regulatory approach for approval, the Food and Drug Administration still must issue guidance on the details.
“I think we can be a leader potentially on both sides of it,” Barrett said.
But some pharmaceutical industry insiders remain skeptical. One lobbyist said Teva, despite its effort to portray itself as a hybrid operation, has “been and always will be the 800-pound gorilla in the generics marketplace. No spin will ever change that.”
Generic drugmakers offer comparable, sometimes identical products to name-brand drugs once patents expire. When generic versions hit the market, competition drives down prices for both the original branded drug and copycat versions. Teva is a member of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association but is not a member of its counterpart in the brand industry, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
Barrett said Teva is receptive to possibly joining the PhRMA fold, even though the company and the association will not always agree on policy matters. “We’re definitely not opposed to it,” she said. “We would consider working with them. We ought to be a several-card-carrying member because that’s the industry.”
Another lobbyist familiar with drug industry issues said operating in both spaces “definitely presents challenges and opportunities. They are a little bit internally conflicted. But it definitely gives them a special perspective. They do have a legitimate opportunity to present both sides and be a resource for that balanced straight talk.”
Jason Gerberry, a drug industry analyst with Leerink Swann, said the company’s 2012 revenue was split almost evenly between generics and other sources, mostly brand-name products. But in terms of operating profit, only about 35 percent came from generics, he noted. One of its most profitable is a multiple sclerosis drug, Copaxone.
“The U.S. generics business is hitting a tough spot,” Gerberry added. And Teva’s stock has been flat.
Another priority for Teva, Barrett said, will be an effort to combat prescription drug abuse. The company is examining how it could best educate the public, Barrett said, and she indicated that a campaign along those lines would roll out later this year. “We need to stop the trends here,” she said. “We’re asking, ‘What can we do?’”
Since Barrett joined Teva, the company has increased its spending on federal lobbying. The year she started, Teva reported about $1.3 million in annual expenditures. In more recent years, it has spent around $3 million. Last year, according to Lobbying Disclosure Act reports, it farmed out work to such firms as Goodwin Procter, Rubicon Advisors and others.
Before she joined Teva, Barrett was a consultant at the Washington Group lobbying firm and had been a lobbyist at the generic drug industry trade group. On Capitol Hill, she worked for former Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Lobbyists from both sides of the aisle give her high marks. Democrat Rich Tarplin called her “a rare commodity in the drug world — hard-headed and sophisticated about business issues with the heart of a progressive on access to quality care for patients.”
GOP lobbyist Ari Storch, another former Teva consultant, said Barrett is “the perfect person to help Teva continue its transition from generics behemoth to balanced player.”
In her new role at Teva, Barrett also oversees lobbying in all the states as well as internationally. “We’re trying out the video-conferencing capabilities,” she said. But traveling to Israel as well as to Brussels and other capitals is part of the job. “Nothing supplants being face to face.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.