Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Federal Lobbying and the CIRM Mission

The California stem cell agency opened a huge door earlier this spring when it decided to back industry legislation in Washington to protect biotech therapy patents against development of generic equivalents.

Now marching across that portal is a bid to have the directors of the $3 billion state research institute engage in even broader lobbying efforts. Specifically they are being asked to take a position on one of the most sweeping and controversial parts of the national health care legislation -- the public health care option.

Why not, ask some?

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., said,
CIRM should never have hired a lobbyist; it should never have taken a position on biosimilar (patent) legislation. But now that the board has gone down that ill-conceived route, the only responsible position is a full endorsement of a public option in health insurance reform. Anything else would demonstrate that the ICOC listens to industry, but ignores consumers.”
The public option question will come before the CIRM directors' Legislative Subcommittee on Aug. 6. It was placed there by Art Torres, vice chairman of the board of directors and chairman of the subcommittee, at the request of director Jeff Sheehy, a communications manager for UC San Francisco.

Sheehy brought up the subject following a report on the patent legislation during a subcommittee meeting on July 16. He noted that the patent legislation is part of the healthcare reform act.

According to the transcript, Sheehy said,
“Since that is now on the table, I would like to ask that the board formally consider supporting the adoption of a public plan as part of that measure since we've already opined on one element of that plan....”
Sheehy continued,
“Given that basically the biosimilars bill was a sop to industry in order to get buy-in (on health care reform) to make sure that everybody in America can have access to care, we should have support as a board for the key element of ensuring that people won't be excluded for prior conditions.

“I know as a person living with HIV, I'm basically trapped within my job because I could never be insured. The only way to guarantee that I would have access to insurance and access to these therapies as we develop them -- and I'm perfectly fine letting industry get all that they need for biosimilars for stem cell research -- but we need a public plan as part of the health reform act to ensure that there is a guaranteed access plan for all Americans, including all Californians.”
Torres promptly replied,
“Well put.”
He said he would place Sheehy's proposal on the agenda for the next meeting.

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein did take issue with Sheehy's description of the patent legislation as an industry sop. Here is how the dialogue went.

“I'd just like to say that it's important to remind everyone that ours was not a political judgment, but rather one committed to our mission.”
“And I agree, but I think ultimately none of this means a thing if patients can't get access to these therapies."
“Hear, hear.”
“I think that's a very, very important debate that Mr. Sheehy is bringing us to focus on. And thank you, Jeff.”
The public can participate in the subcommittee meeting at teleconference locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Healdsburg, Mountain View, Irvine, Palo Alto, La Jolla and Sacramento. You can find the specific addresses on the agenda. Sphere: Related Content

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