The July 20, 2009 issue of BioCentury has an extensive report on the "Biosimilar fire Drill." It discusses in detail the lobbying by the Biotechnology Industry Association (BIO, bio.org) to defeat efforts by President Obama, OMB, the FTC, Representative Waxman, Senator Brown, AARP, Public Citizen, PIRG, Consumers Union, KEI, Essential Action, UAEM and others, to reform regulation of biologic medicines, so there is more generic competition. (For earlier discussions of the bill, go here or here).
What is unusual and surprising is the key role of Howard Dean to back an anti-consumer BIO backed measure in the health reform bill. Excerpts from the BioCentury report are available here.
One interesting bit is how Howard Dean describes his work for BIO: "long-term and short-term strategic advice to BIO. I do not lobby." But he is paid to work on Biosimilars for BIO, he wrote an oped in The Hill on the topic, and he is talking to members of Congress about the measure. What exactly would it take to make Howard Dean a lobbyist? A special badge from the Wizard of Oz?
- "In bending political opinion about biosimilars, BIO benefited from the services of prominent Democrats, most notably former Democratic National Committee chair and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, and perennial Democratic presidential campaign manager Joe Trippi, as well as well-placed lobbying firms.
- "Dean signed on as "an independent consultant exclusive to the government affairs practice at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP" in March 2009, according to the law firm. BIO's Joseph told BioCentury McKenna has a contract to provide "general strategic consulting, messaging advice, and communications strategy" for the trade association.
- "In his e-mail to board members, (BIO President & CEO) Greenwood did not fail to include Dean in his praise. "Our team at BIO, the D.C. offices of our members, our consultants (now including former Vermont Governor and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean) did a magnificent job," he wrote.
- "Dean has been a great addition to our team," Stephen Sherwin, chair of BIO's executive committee and health section, told BioCentury.
I asked a few colleagues that they thought of Howard Dean's actions:
Rob Weissman, Essential Action:
Howard Dean would not have done this for PhRMA, but he's doing it for BIO. BIO has created this propaganda that it's different, even though they are hardly distinct industries these days. He could have said no. He could have talked to the critics. Here is someone who wants to be a central figure in the health care debate. It's pretty distributing.
Meredith Filak, Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue:
It's sad that he can do this. It reminds me of Janus, the two headed god. It's two faced. He has run on taking on big drug companies.
Alan Barber, CPER:
He's supposed to be advocating to make health care affordable for everyone, but lobbying for an industry group that is pushing up health care costs up. That's bizarre. It's a shame to see someone like Dean carrying a torch for those guys.
Ed Mierzwinski, PIRG:
I'm not shocked. I've watched this town for twenty years. But I'm disappointed that Dr. Howard Dean is taking a paid side on this, and that someone who was once considered a leading progressive activist is a lobbyist for powerful entrenched interest. I wish he was on the other side.
Mark Cooper, Consumer Federation of America:
Anyone who is against generics is against the consumer.
Malini Aisola, Knowledge Ecology International:
It's pretty repulsive, what he's doing.
Ethan Guillen, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines
It's really reprehensible that Howard Dean has become a hired pitchman for the biotech industry. Given the public persona he created for himself, it's surprising that he's selling out consumers, particularly on such an important issue that will harm health access for patients.
Anonymous House Staffer:
Nothing surprises me on this bill, but yes, its pretty disgusting.
My own impression? Washington is more corrupt than I thought. Money buys people I didn't think it could.
A vote in the House on the BIO backed Eshoo Amendment may take place as early as Wed, in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce mark-up on the health reform bill.
Of course, there is quite a bit more going on the bill that is equally depressing. Joe Trippi, Senator Kennedy, Representative Jon Conyers and others are pushing the PhRMA/BIO line. BIO and PhRMA are investing a lot in democrats (and former democrat staffers, party officials and consultants) these days, and it shows.