Monday, July 13, 2009

‘Boiling Blood,’ Biotech and Rainmaking

The headline in the Wall Street Journal this morning read “Blood Boils Over Bill to Protect Biotech Drugs.”

And on Friday, the story on was about a “king of K Street” in Washington, D.C., the man who is the $240,000 federal lobbyist for the California stem cell agency.

Both stories are related to the agency’s lobbying efforts in Congress on behalf of an industry-backed bill to stall competition from generic companies that may seek to duplicate biotech drugs.

The WSJ story indirectly makes it clear how picayune is the CIRM lobbying effort. The bill endorsed by the agency is not even mentioned. The players are many and powerful. The stage is vast, encompassing the Obama administration’s sweeping health plan effort.

Reporter Alicia Mundy focused on a proposal by Sen. Ted Kennedy that would give biotech firms 13.5 years of protection from generic competition on what the WSJ called “lucrative” drugs. That is about twice as long as proposed by President Obama, who is wrapping the IP legislation into his health care package.

Mundy reported that Kennedy’s effort “may prevail because it would help keep the pharmaceutical industry on board with the (Obama) overhaul, said industry lobbyists and Senate staffers.”

Also involved in this is Tony Podesta, an accomplished rainmaker and CIRM’s Washington lobbyist(the agency has another lobbyist in Sacramento). Chris Frates of wrote that “in the age of Obama, it’s a particularly good time to be named Podesta.”

Frates recounted the Podesta family ties to Obama, including brother John Podesta’s co-chairmanship of the president’s transition team.

Frates said Tony Podesta is active in campaign fund-raising, hosting a recent event that funneled $500,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Some CIRM directors and others have questioned the agency’s lobbying effort as largely meaningless given the vast issues in play in Washington. However, $240,000 would not be meaningless to a stem cell researcher in California looking for help to push science along to finding a cure for one of the array of ailments many believe could be alleviated through stem cell therapy.

Assuming that protecting the biotech industry from generic competition is the correct position for a California state agency, the question remains: What do the people of California get out of the expenditure of $240,000, which does not even buy a bleacher seat in the Capitol? And that amount does not count the additional staff and directors time, travel and expenses. Does any of it change the outcome?

CIRM directors will receive a briefing on Thursday on the legislation at a teleconference meeting of their Legislative Subcommittee. The public can participate in session at locations in San Francisco, Elk Grove, Healdsburg, La Jolla (2), Irvine and Palo Alto. Specific addresses can be found on the agenda.

(Editor’s note: The WSJ article is only available to online subscribers. If you would like a copy, please email Sphere: Related Content


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