Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Podesta, CIRM and the Biotech Industry

The federal lobbyist for the California stem cell agency is doing quite well financially so far this year, but the CIRM account represents only a tiny fraction of its business.

During the first quarter of this year, the Podesta Group raked in $5.2 million, up 50 percent from a year ago, according to a story by Kevin Bogardus of The Hill Web site. The Washington, D.C., lobbyist won a $240,000, 10-month contract from CIRM earlier this year. In addition to California's publicly funded stem cell research effort, Podesta counts some major players in the pharmaceutical industry among its clients.

Federal lobbying is a big business. Total spending in 2008 hit $3.27 billion (yes, Billion) in 2008, up from $2.84 billion the previous year, according to Opensecrets.org. But the number of federal lobbyists is down to 10,785 from 15,287 last year.

Podesta accounted for only $16 million of the 2008 total. Most of its clients paid the firm less than $500,000 last year. They include Amgen, $240,000; Amylin, $180,00; Cubist Pharamceuticals, $150,000; Millenium Pharmaceuticals, $200,000; Novartis, $210,00; Reed Elsevier, $690,000; Roche, $240,000; Sereno, $350,000; Sunshine in Government Initiative, $200,000, and the University of Texas Anderson Medical Center, $300,000.

One of the issues currently being lobbied hard in Washington involves the financial future of the biotech industry. Competing legislation is before Congress that would set the rules for creation of generic biotech drugs -- biosimiliars.

It is also an issue on which CIRM is scheduled to take a position on May 12, although the CIRM board has backed away from a stand on specific bills.

J.K. Wall of the Indianapolis Business Journal on March 23 wrote about the lobbying efforts of Eli Lilly on biosimiliars.

Wall wrote:
"Indeed, generic biotech drugs represent a big threat to the large pharmaceutical companies, which increasingly have turned to biotech drugs for growth as their most successful chemical-pill-form medicines cruise toward the end of their patent lives."
Wall continued,

"Trouble is, biotech has become a synonym for exorbitant. For example, Herceptin, a biotech breast cancer treatment introduced 11 years ago by Genentech Inc, costs $40,000 for one year of treatment.

"'Excessive exclusivity means that it will be decades before patients have access to affordable biogeneric medicines,' said Kathleen Jaeger, CEO of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, in a statement. 'Timely access to affordable biogenerics will save lives and save consumers and state and federal governments billions of dollars.'"

At its board meeting last month, some CIRM directors exhibited considerable discomfort at entering the fray with specific endorsements of competing legislation. Some questioned not only the appropriateness of CIRM taking a position, but whether it could have any significant impact on the legislative process. Mission creep was one complaint.

But the need to "protect" the biotech industry carried the day, and CIRM is scheduled to approve a statement of principles on generic biotech drugs on May 12.

No doubt exists that this is an important issue, affecting the industry and the development of drugs that could potentially ease much misery and suffering.

But one wonders whether California voters, in approving Prop. 71, envisioned hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars being spent for lobbying on behalf of any industry.

One also wonders about CIRM's relationship with Podesta and its array of drug industry clients. Which is the dog and which is the tail? Do CIRM's interests become subsumed in the pharmaceutical mix? And how can California taxpayers know for sure? Perhaps they can ask one of Podesta's other clients: The Sunshine in Government Initiative.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments:

Post a Comment