Hardly an Anemic Battle

An Anti-Anemia Drug Worth Billions Has Prompted a Lobbying Fight Costing Millions

Posted October 26, 2007 at 6:03pm

When a Boston jury last week handed drugmaker Hoffman-LaRoche a crushing defeat in its patent law suit over Amgen Inc.’s antianemia treatment, Epogen, Roche lobbyists said the federal court decision would have a far-reaching impact on the two rivals’ multimillion-dollar lobbying fight in Washington, D.C.

Lobbyists for both companies refused to speak publicly, but in interviews with several representatives, Roche advocates said the defeat renders null their lobbying effort — aimed at allowing a competing Roche product into the United States — and predicted the company will let go or scale back the contracts of some of the more than 20 outside firms it now employs.

“This has been a megabillion-dollar issue,” one Roche lobbyist noted. “If you’re a health care lobbyist worth his salt, and you haven’t been hired on this, then you’re doing something wrong.”

Lobbyists on the Amgen side, however, said the Thousand Oaks, Calif., biotech company plans to keep its guard up, in case Roche decides not to abandon its Congressional strategy, but instead tries to find a stealthy, last-ditch way for its anemia-fighting product, Mircera, to be marketed in the U.S.

“If you’re Amgen, you would be less paranoid than you were last week,” said one Amgen lobbyist. But, added the lobbyist, “at the same time it’s more important for Roche to get a change.”

Amgen filed suit against Basel, Switzerland-based Roche two years ago, claiming that Mircera, which has been approved for use in the European Union, violated Amgen patents for Epogen. Epogen and Aranesp, Amgen’s other anemia treatment, accounted for nearly half of Amgen’s $14 billion in sales last year.

“I think it probably makes it all the more important for Roche to try and pass something,” said one Amgen lobbyist, who, like the others, would speak only on condition of anonymity. “Under current law, Roche is infringing on Amgen’s patent. The only way [Roche] could actually bring their product to the U.S. market is if they change the law.”

Added another Amgen lobbyist: “I can’t believe Roche will give up. We’re operating under the assumption that if anything this invigorates their lobbying efforts.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Roche tried to change patent laws behind-the-scenes. In 2005, lobbyists for Roche nearly got the legislative language they wanted inserted into a Commerce, Justice and science appropriations bill.

Before that happened, though, Amgen found out about Roche’s efforts, and since then has bolstered its lobbying lineup and engaged in a massive defensive battle that even some Amgen lobbyists characterize as nothing short of paranoid.

The Amgen-Roche arms race has been a boon for K Street.

In the first half of 2007, Amgen spent more than $9 million on both its in-house lobbying and the work it farmed out to more than 30 firms, including Covington & Burling, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, the Duberstein Group, Lent Scrivner & Roth, Ricchetti Inc., Hogan & Hartson and Drinker Biddle & Reath.

Roche, which went from a sleepy Washington player to something of a powerhouse, spent $3.3 million on in-house and outside lobbying for the first half of this year. Roche sent work to more than 20 firms, including Patton Boggs; The Nickles Group; Ogilvy Government Relations; Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal; Parry, Romani, DeConcini & Symms; McAllister & Quinn; The Raben Group; and Polaris Government Relations.

Its in-house lobbying team is led by Democrat Evan Morris, a former lobbyist from Patton Boggs, while Rodger Currie, a former GOP counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a former lobbyist at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, runs Amgen’s Capitol Hill operation.

Linda Dyson, a Roche spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement that Roche “has never lobbied on any issues pertaining to the litigation in U.S. District Court” and that the company expects its lobbying spending to remain consistent.

When asked whether the Amgen court decision makes it more necessary to change patent laws in Washington, she responded: “Roche remains committed to fair patent laws that promote innovation without improperly stifling competition.”

While many Amgen lobbyists appear convinced that the court decision will only give Roche more reason to push its cause on the Hill, Roche lobbyists take the opposite view.

Amgen’s effort, said one pharmaceutical lobbyist on the Roche side of the debate, has been about “protecting their monopoly on Epogen.” But the lobbyist added that “the court case is a clear victory for Amgen” and will lead to Roche’s scaling back its lobbying on the patent debate.

As for many of the outside lobbyists hired to work on the issue, this lobbyist predicted, “their business will probably go away next year or at least be limited.”

Kelley Davenport, Amgen’s Washington director of corporate communications, said that it’s still too early to know what impact the court case will have on the company’s lobbying activities.

“We can’t speculate on Roche’s legislative efforts, but we will continue to actively protect our intellectual property,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Because we operate in a highly-regulated industry influenced by Congress and regulatory agencies, Amgen will continue to have a presence in Washington, D.C. in an effort to effectively shape healthcare policy and ensure patient safety and patient access to products.”

She added that key lobbying issues for the company this year have included Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, and follow-on biologics legislation and patent reform, in addition to the patent fight with Roche.