Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Drug lobbying group threatens to pull support from health care bill

From Dana Bash, CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent
Billy Tauzin told PhRMA board members that shortening the life of brand-name biologic drug patents was unacceptable.
Billy Tauzin told PhRMA board members that shortening the life of brand-name biologic drug patents was unacceptable.
  • CNN obtained e-mail from top exec at the lead lobbying arm for the drug industry
  • Group's support of health care bills hinges on brand-name biologic drug patents, he wrote
  • In current bills, such patents are protected for 12 years
  • Some Democrats are trying to use negotiations over a final bill to reduce that figure

The lead lobbying arm of the drug industry is threatening to pull its support for health care legislation if Democrats reduce protections for brand-name biologic drugs.

In an e-mail obtained by CNN, Billy Tauzin, the top executive of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), told board members that "we could not support the bill" if Democrats reduce the number of years that brand name biologic drugs can keep their patents. Tauzin's e-mail was also a call to action, saying, "please activate immediately all of your contacts."

PhRMA fought hard for language that passed both the House and Senate health care bills, stating that patents for brand name biologic drugs are protected for 12 years before generic companies would be permitted to make less-expensive versions. Biologics are drugs made from living organisms to prevent and treat diseases like arthritis and diabetes.

At issue now: some Democrats who support the generics industry are trying to use negotiations over a final health care bill to shave off a few years from the 12-year brand exclusivity. The leading Democrat pushing for the change is House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-California, a defender of generic drugs who lost a battle early on in his own committee to reduce brand-name protection to seven years.

President Obama signaled in a private meeting with House Democrats Thursday that he could support reducing 12-year protection for brand-name biologics.

According to several Democratic sources, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, a lawmaker with biotech companies in her Silicon Valley district, challenged the president in Thursday's meeting and asked him not to change the 12-year biologics protection.

The sources said Obama responded by making clear he disagreed with her, saying, "My job is to do what I think is good policy."

That sounded alarm bells at PhRMA, which represents drug companies in Washington, and at the Biotechnology Industry Organization -- the lobbying arm of biologic brand drugs.

"Fair data protection of at least 12 years for new, innovative biologic medicines is critically important to the future of medical progress in America. Fair data protection allows our companies to make the extensive investment necessary to develop cutting-edge medicines that allow American patients to live longer, healthier and more productive lives," said PhRMA in a statement.

Supporters of so-called biogeneric drugs argue 12 years of exclusivity is excessive and will undermine innovation, and deny consumer access to more affordable drugs.

The Obama administration and Democratic leaders struck a deal early on to get the powerful lobby on their side during this debate. PhRMA spent millions in advertising in support of Democrats efforts and agreed that drug companies would contribute $80 billion to help defray the cost to the government of reforming health care.

Democratic sources said they were considering asking drug companies for $10 billion more as they negotiate a final health care bill.